Wednesday 10 December 2014 6:45 am

Is there ever an excuse to use PowerPoint in a presentation?

Is there ever an excuse to use PowerPoint in a presentation?

First of all, what is a presentation? It’s not a pitch. Pitches and presentations are different things. A pitch is a courtship – the (hopeful) beginning of a relationship. A presentation is the transfer of knowledge, facts, data etc within an existing relationship.    If you are pitching, there is hardly ever, hardly any, valid excuse to get your laptop or iPad out of your bag, unless:

  • You can do Steve Jobs-style single picture Power Point Pitches AND
  • You are pitching to a large audience AND
  • You are selling an app or Apple-like product

Ok. So when could or should you use PowerPoint in presentations?    The job of a presentation is to transfer knowledge. If you are presenting the results of surveys, data or comparing options, PowerPoint can be helpful. But be very careful. Only use PowerPoint when it supports, illustrates, and is necessary to communicate your point. Most PowerPoints are badly put together, boring, same-y, used as crutches, and adopt the leading role rather than the supporting act. Worst of all – they are almost all forgettable.    So use this as a guide:

  • Think about the knowledge you want to transfer. Can you sum it up in a sentence? Or a collection of three, four or maximum five sentences? If you can’t, you are either muddled, or confusing supporting data with conclusions and certainly on track for boring your audience.   
  • If you can’t sketch the PowerPoint slide on a large post-it note, it’s too complicated. Fact. Make one or two points per slide then move on. 
  • If your technology does a dirty on you and fails, and you are lost without your PowerPoint, you don’t know your stuff and shouldn’t be in the room anyway. 
  • Always start your presentation on paper – only resort to even opening PowerPoint when you absolutely, definitely, without a doubt, need and must have a graphic underpinning of what you are saying. 

Earlier this year I was a speaker coach at TedMed (the medical version of Ted) in Washington, working with scientists and doctors who are often communicating quite complex concepts. Their maximum speaking time is 18 minutes, but most TedMed speakers only get three, five or 12 minutes. And they always do their presentation without notes, often without any PowerPoint and only occasionally with just a few powerful and supporting slides.   I appreciate preparation time is always, short but if the presentation is worth doing, surely it is worth investing the time and the effort so the transfer of knowledge accurately takes place and is fully received and understood. And acted on.