Death by PowerPoint

It’s time to take a stand and ask one of the truly perplexing questions of our time. Why do we continue to subject each other to – death by PowerPoint? I was at a breakfast event last week and the scene was a familar one, it could have been any one of many similar events that happen around town on a given week…


A group of nattily dressed business types gather for a presentation. After the networking is done, breakfast is enjoyed, coffee is poured and conversation is shared, it happens – death by PowerPoint.


The well-intentioned presenter steps to the microphone and flips to the first slide, well-crafted bullet points slide on to the screen, followed by colourful diagrams and visually complicated charts that possibily contain great wisdom…


And the audience goes to sleep (sometimes quite literally).


If you work in an organisation, the chances that you will be in this or a similar situation at some point are fairly good. So how can you avoid falling into this trap and keep your audience awake?


You can try turning off the projector, ditching the PowerPoint and just talking to your audience. But if you must have a presentation, here are some suggestions that will at least keep your audience from falling face first into their eggs.


Five rules for creating amazing PowerPoint presentations (as posted by Seth Godin in his blog; click here to read the full post).

  1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.
  2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.
  3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions.
  4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
  5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.


If you follow the great advice above, it will mean you have to do a bit more than read the slides for your presentation. But the result will be a memorable experience for everyone. After all you have a room full of people focused on you – isn’t it better they be captivated not comotose?


But beyond the group presentation, PowerPoint has some other insideous effects. As summarised by Edward Tufte in his well-known Wired article “Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely” – “Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects; it induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall…”


Think he’s kidding? Take a look at this PowerPoint distillation of Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address. The souless recitation of facts might be an accurate summary, but it pales in comparison when placed side-by-side with the actual words used.


Whatever the purpose of your presentation, it is worthwhile remembering that nothing will ever beat a good story, well told.


See you next week with my “Good, Brand and Ugly ’08” Roundup.


P.S. If you want to read more about the use and misuse of PowerPoint check out this other great article by Tufte – The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint.



Alignment is Michel’s passion. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia, and Brand Alignment Group in the United States, she helps organisations align who they are, with what they do and say to build more authentic and sustainable brands.

For more Cultural Leadership blogs, click here.



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