Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I hate PowerPoint

Imagine you had to give a presentation to a fairly large group. The topic is something you know something about. The quarterly report. The latest advances in merkins. Whatever.  And while you're delivering this presentation you also have to put on rock climbing gear. Bulky jacket,boots, lacing up the heavy boots, attaching one or two harnesses, stocking up on flares and picks. All this while you're analyzing T.S. Eliot poetry.

Well for the most part, that's what it's like when you do a presentation with PowerPoint. Ive been to a number of conferences lately where good speakers with interesting topics were derailed by PowerPoint presentations. They spent half their talks fumbling around with slides. At first the audience is patient and has a little empathy. But after five minutes you want to scream, "Hey, numnuts! They're friggin' bullet points. Who gives a shit?! Just talk!".

PowerPoint and similar programs kill more lectures than they help. Yes, if you need visuals, fine. Let's say you're explaining how Facebook works or just "what is pornography?"  Slides would help -- in some cases the bigger, the better.

But now you can easily make graphs and graphics to just underscore the text of your talk. 68% of homeowners have spice racks.  "I don't believe you. Oh wait, I'm now looking at a slide of a spice rack and underneath it says 68% of homeowners have these. Okay, you sold me!".

The truth is speakers now use PowerPoint as a crutch. They think the can jazz up their presentations with visual aids. All too often though this results in technical snafus, fumbling around, the wrong slides, and takes the speaker right out of any rhythm. And most of the time the slides are boring, hard to read, and unnecessary.

Some people think if they don't arm themselves with PowerPoint that the audience will think they're unprepared. That's bullshit!

As a speaker, your job is to communicate. Talk to us. Share ideas, if it's a topic you're excited about let us see that.  You don't have to be the worlds greatest speaker. But your genuine enthusiasm will sell your message. Not a dizzying display of pie charts.

A helpful tip that will mean more than a slide proclaiming "4 warning signs of gum decay" is to start your talk with a story. People love stories and it puts them at ease. People think you have to begin with a joke -- the great woody Allen intro: " I'm reminded of the incestuous farmer's daughter...". No. You don't have to do that. If you got a great joke and you're good at delivering jokes then yeah, kill 'em. But a brief story, preferably personal, will achieve the same goal of disarming your crowd.

Speak with passion. Again, you don't have to be Billy Graham or Zig Zigler. But make us understand why the topic is interesting to you. In this case, a well placed word is worth a thousand pictures.

The Mariners are in Cleveland to begin a brief two-game series against the Sons of the Wigwam.  Join Rick Rizzs and me for the call tonight on 710 ESPN Seattle, the Mariners Radio Network, and MLB.COM.  

33 comments:

sephim said...

Does anybody try and do anything like this anymore?

http://youtu.be/gV24chq7WMY

Matt said...

I don't agree, you should use powerpoint if you know what you are doing.

For example, there is an event run every 6 months or so in the UK that is a great way to see how powerpoint is used.

Anyone can volunteer to talk about a subject they are passionate about and are given 5 minutes to talk about it. You then get 20 slides that automatically change every 15 seconds.

I have been to 2 and have been entertained and learnt some new things.

The link for previous shows are here http://ignitelondon.net/videos I suggest you look at some to see what I mean about how, like any tool, if used correctly it can be great and help your talk.

Blaze said...

In the days of once upon a time, these speakers had actual slides shining on a screen. They could still be dull and pointless and stupefying, but the technical troubles were fewer. OH, they existed, but the slide projector going kablooey or the slides being out of order were significant moments of embarrassment (or temporary relief). Powerpoint and computers must have ten times the stage fright of slide projectors or overheads. It is almost guaranteed that any talk with Powerpoint type visuals will include five minutes of manic mousing and up to four people huddled over the laptop trying to coax it to behave. Ah, well. These regular, if unscheduled, breaks allow me to get my phone out and play.

Ryan D. said...

Ken,

Welcome (back, I'm assuming) to Cleveland. Aside from Progessive Field for the game, will you be out seeing our fine city?

As for Powerpoint, the best speakers -- the ones who truly know their material -- don't need a crutch. But having a few key visuals can help, especially to hammer home important stats, phrases, etc. But otherwise, visuals on a screen typically draw attention away from what the speaker is attempting to communicate.

Thanks!

Ryan (rydawdesign@yahoo.com)

Miserable Dreamer said...

Matt, those events are held all over the place, and they are as dull as any slide show presentation I've ever been to. They're called PechaKucha and I guess they're interesting, if you don't have to sit in an office and watch botched PowerPoint presentations weekly (like I do).

Most corporate meetings would work as a 5 to 10 minute stand up meeting, but I guess someone has to justify their job, so they drag 10 minutes of questionable information out into a 2 hour PowerPoint meeting.

Mark said...

I've seen some slides used in government work that you would swear -- not without reason -- were created to hide rather than communicate information. They were supposed to function as flowcharts, but they looked more like one of those pictures of a web spun by a spider that's been dosed with LSD.

Since most people would rather donate a kidney than speak in front of a group, PowerPoint serves mostly as a means of convincing the speaker to get up there and take the mic. You've got slides, you'll be fine. And by the time the speaker learns differently, it's too late. The only thing that makes a worse impression than a bad presentation is fleeing the stage in tears.

Tom Quigley said...

Having been sentenced to the fate of working in a corporate environment for almost 10 years after I left Los Angeles, I sat through more than my share of PowerPoint malfunctions during numerous (and seemingly endless) "informational meetings and training sessions." Couple that with the fact that often the speaker was also on conference call from a remote location, meaning that our only proof that someone was actually supposed to be in charge of these fiascos was that we heard a disembodied voice which sounded like it had been recorded on an Edison gramophone over the one single 5-inch conference phone speaker in the room -- and then the line would suddenly go dead for no apparent reason... Well, there we were, 150 people in a locked room with no external light source and minimal air circulation, essentially relegated to twiddling our thumbs (or talking or sleeping or checking our messages on our cell phones) while the IT techs scrambled frantically to try and figure out what it was they forgot to program... Or synchronize... Or coordinate... Or plug in... Ah, yes! Another hour and a half of our workday misspent at company expense... Well, at least they gave us sandwiches...

wv: unicases -- What the Unabomber carried his explosive devices in

Max Clarke said...

That best-selling biography of Steve Jobs revealed how much Steve disliked slide presentations.

When Steve got a briefing from an Apple employee and the fellow started a Powerpoint/Keynote slide show, Steve would stop it. He'd have the employee sit at the table and the two of them would just talk.

Steve knew which questions to ask, so he'd get the information he needed, and he felt he got a better idea of the employee as well.

Brent said...

Maybe I'm oversimplifying it, but...

We used to communicate face to face, or over the phone. You had to LISTEN to what others were saying because that was the only option.

Now, we are so visual in everything we do. Information isn't typewritten words in the newspaper that make you think; it's youtube or facebook or some other social media I haven't even heard of yet. Everything is pictures. We've forgotten how to LISTEN. Yeah, yeah, a picture is worth a thousand words and all that. A picture of crap is still crap.

I do agree about most powerpoint presentations. After a few minutes in the darkened room you can almost hear the snoring, and shortly thereafter the speaker starts sounding like Charlie Brown's teacher. Wa-wa-wah, wa-wa-wa-wah. Most folks these days have never heard of Dale Carnegie, let alone read the book.

If the subject is technical in nature being done by an engineer who is totally unsuited to speaking in front of a large group of people then I give a lot more leeway. But if it's the regional veep telling you "this is how much money we lost last year even though the CEO got a multi-million dollar bonus and this is how we're going to cut costs this year" you can save your breath, tell us how many people you're going to lay off and be done with it. I don't need to see no stinkin' powerpoint presentation for that.

Heidi said...

There is nothing worse than sitting in a presentation while the speaker reads the PowerPoint slides at you word for word.

The Curmudgeon said...

Amen! Google the Gettysburg Address Powerpoint sometime -- very funny.

Terrence Moss said...

One of my recent jobs was sooo PowerPoint dependent that it became a waste. Short decks would grow from 15 slides to 90 to impress the prospective client -- only to wind up skipping through all but those 15 original slides.

I ran across this book, "Real Leaders Don't Use Powerpoint" on my way home from one such client visit.

Alan Tomlinson said...

Edward Tufte(who knows more than anyone else I know about the distribution of information and has produced some of the definitive works about same) says,

http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/nytimes_1203

Cheers,

Alan Tomlinson

404 said...

Ken, I teach Public Speaking at a local university, and I can relate to your frustrations. I have sat through more crappy presentations than any human should ever have to do, and I think I speak with some knowledge when I say Power Point is one of the main culprits for why presentations can suck.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. The problem is not PP. It's people who don't know how or why to use it. I'm not going to go into all of that now, but suffice to say I feel your pain. PP should enhance a speech, provide visuals that help reinforce or explain an idea. Most people, however, just use them as filler. Or worse, they write their entire speech on them and just read it out to the audience. I spend a lot of time in my class trying to correct things like this.

Kirk said...

Ken, will you have time to visit the new casino during your stay in Cleveland? If you do, I hope you write about it. I can't afford to go myself, and don't trust the "reporting"--PR work in all but name--that's coming out of the Plain Dealer, our one and only newspaper.

Chris Muir said...

The worst is a boring powerpoint presentation with a boring presenter who is essentially reading the slides. I've had to sit through way too many of this sort of presentation.

Michael said...

Friday question:

If demo ratings are so important, why do networks even bother with shows like "Harry's Law", which ended up being cancelled despite being one of NBC's shows with highest total number of viewers? Did they really think a show starring Kathy Bates would attract young viewers?

ofearde witne said...

I didn't think it was possible, but you picked a topic that's even more boring than the Mariners! Maybe you can work that in tonight, too. I've stopped listening/watching till they get a major league team, and that's at least 2 more seasons away. They must pay you gazillions to call that shit night after night!

Johnny Walker said...

This is a great point. I have say that I've never watched TED talk and thought, "That was great, but it would have been better if they'd had a PowerPoint presentation."

RCP said...

That photo reminds me of the audience at my own PowerPoint presentation: "My Sexual Escapades up to Now." Philistines.

Jim 7 said...

Wait, there's something new in merkins?

HogsAteMySister said...

AGREE.

But clients pay PR people real monies.

The more poundage they get, in paper and Power Points, the easier it is to swallow the bill.

Which is another reason we should ban electricity.

Tom Galloway said...

I've always liked Peter Norvig's take on the Gettysburg Address as PowerPoint; http://norvig.com/Gettysburg/

In addition to the actual PP, I suggest reading the linked to on the page "Making of". Peter's a very sharp guy, as his day job as Director of Research at Google would indicate.

Barbara C. said...

Well, Power Point has pretty much replaced blackboards in most college classrooms. They save the professor from having to interrupt the lecture/discussion to write ten tons of information (names/dates/definitions) on the board with his back to the class...not to mention having to erase and rewrite information repeatedly when they teach multiple sections of the same course in a semester.

On the flip side, Power Point presentation with more than two slides seems like an awful lot of unnecessary work for a five minute presentation and like it would be completely unnecessary in a lot of situations.

Ed Dempsey said...

As someone who teaches people how to use Keynote for the Mac, I agree with you completely that it (along with PowerPoint) are too often used as a crutch, rather than as a tool. Two resources that I've come across that I always introduce to my workshop participants is "Presentation Zen" by Garr Reynolds and "Slide-ology" by Nancy Duarte. Each have published several great books on the topic of presentations.

Here's the link to the Presentation Zen blog - http://www.presentationzen.com/

And finally, to see a presentation that's straight to the point, here's the Forward by Guy Kawasaki for the Presentation Zen book, done as a series of slides.

http://www.slideshare.net/garr/guy-kawasakis-foreword-for-presentation-zen

Matt H said...

Ken,

I suspect you live in a world where many of the presentations you see are from professional speakers. They are funny and engaging without the use of visual aids and the subject matter they speak to doesn't require it.

I on the otherhand work in academia, where I occasionally see scientific presentations. The presenters often aren't professional speakers and often English is their second (or third, fourth, fifth) language. They are trying to explain s novel scientific hypothesis complete with complicated equations and chemical formulas. Without visual aids it would be incomprehensible even for the other scientist. They must see their work. Powerpoint is a wonderful tool.

On a more personal note, when I was in the Army I used to have to give country briefs to soldiers deploying overseas. It is much easier to show a map and how the unit will be deployed, than to explain it verbally.

I suspect you really don't hate powerpoint as much as you just hate bad presentations. If used properly, powerpoint is a wonderful tool. Unfortunately it is usually used improperly.

Is a speech that has no visual aids, when they are needed, any better? Than you just bore me without me understanding what you are talking about.

Noah said...

Hi Ken. I attended the event at UCSB you took part in. Your panel was free of PowerPoint disasters, but several of the others were really hurt by PP. Was that what inspired this?

Joey H said...

Ditto "Presentation Zen". Great book.

My friend Tim Miles is a professional speaker who uses slide decks very creatively.

http://youtu.be/i9_kvlOZYnA
Here's his regional TED talk.

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Dana Gabbard said...

v.1 p.191 of the Columbia accident report criticized NASA's overreliance on Powerpoint as contributing to the accident.

http://caib.nasa.gov/news/report/pdf/vol1/full/caib_report_volume1.pdf

Unknown said...

Remember, every time someone creates a Powerpoint, Edward Tufte kills a kitten.

http://bit.ly/JVS8IB

Also, check out the excellent book "The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs" http://amzn.to/JVSijj. The man was a genius as presentations.

Wendy said...

This is precisely why I enjoy watching the TED talks online. No power points, just passionate people talking about what they are passionate about.