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Hot 5: Avoiding Power Point Overkill

September 29, 2008 · Print This Article
Posted by Mark Bennardo

Unnecessary GraphicI have a love-hate relationship with Power Point.  To be honest, it’s more of a hate-hate relationship.

I love using visual images to enhance a message.  They can stimulate, illustrate, & highlight good content.  More and more, however, I’ve seen the medium used and misused beyond its intended purpose and effectiveness.  You may use Power Point, Keynote, Pro Presenter, whatever—the software may vary, but the issue is the same.

I recently was producing an event for business professionals.  As I connected with the Keynote Speaker before the session, he informed me that he had 282 slides in his presentation.

“That’s a lot of slides,” I observed, trying hard to be understated.

“It’s okay,” he responded, “It covers 3 hours of training.  Besides, they go by pretty fast.”

“Go by pretty fast?”  I’ll say.  During a 3-hour training session, that’s more than 1.5 slides per minute.  Think about it.  A new graphic every 40 seconds.  That’s assuming that every graphic is equally spaced out, with no hesitations in the presentation.  A new slide every 40 seconds for 3 hours.  My head is still spinning.

Honestly, I think we’ve become lazy.  We have a classic example of the tail wagging the dog. The medium has become the message.  We’ve taken the focus off of our need to tell a compelling story and replaced it with a graphic delivery system.

A lot of presenters I see these days simply use Power Point as a public Teleprompter.  Consider this: if all your content is on the screen, then you, as the presenter, become unnecessary.  As a participant, I really don’t want or need to read your crib notes.  As with many other aspects of good communication, less is more.

As you prepare your next presentation, I encourage you to ask yourself these “Hot 5” questions:

  1. Is this graphic really necessary? Would my presentation be substantively any different without it?  If not, eliminate it.
  2. Will it distract from my message? It may be cool, hip, edgy or beautiful, but if it becomes a distraction, it shouldn’t be there.
  3. Will it increase or hinder the credibility of my message?
    • Is the design and composition of high quality?
    • Is it easy to read?
    • Is it easy to digest?

    If not, why give your audience any unnecessary reason to discredit you or your message?

  4. If the projector lost power, would my message suffer? Sure, it may lose a little zip, but if it suffers, then you’re relying too heavily on the graphics.
  5. Will it take emphasis off of me? Don’t ever forget that, as the presenter:

You are the story.  YOU are the show.  You are the star.

The message is much more important than the medium.  If you’re not convinced that you can deliver the goods on your own merit, then no amount of graphics will make a difference.

Let’s give Power Point a little rest.  It’s overworked, tired and needs a break.


4 Responses to “Hot 5: Avoiding Power Point Overkill”

  1. Bob Dean Says:

    Mark, I couldn’t agree more about PowerPoint. To quote a long-time frend of mine (and yours), Arch Lustberg–“you are your own best visual aid”. We all need to avoid being “powerpointless”.

  2. Brad Abare Says:

    Wisdom indeed, Mark! More often than not, I do not use any PowerPoint slides. And if I do, I make sure the slides are different than what I am communicating.

    Edward Tufte has some excellent thoughts on the subject too, and is one of the better known critics of PowerPoint.

    http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1

  3. Jon Acuff Says:

    Great stuff Mark –
    I love that you asked the question “is the graphic really necessary?” It’s so tempting to use a crutch graphic when you are in a pinch.
    Jon

  4. Richard Says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I’m trying to get our firm to focus more on job aids and much less on slides. Some programs have had luck with this already.

    I think we’ll see more and more of this as content and learning become more collaborative. PowerPoint is teacher-centric (i.e. – they’re often just notes). Learning environments that are more learner-centric won’t have slides, and I think that’s the direction more learning will continue to head.

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