3 Reasons To Ditch Your PowerPoint Slides

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PowerPoint and Keynote slides are often so terrible that ditching them completely would go a long way in helping presenters connect with audiences.  I was taking a lazy Sunday nap and read an article on NPR called “Physicists, Generals, and CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint.”  The article makes three fascinating points on why we should get rid of those slides completely:

PowerPoint gets in the way of discussion

A team of physicists banned PowerPoint and forced presenters to use a whiteboard instead.  In their experience, people who used PowerPoint slides were tethered to those slides, and when it came time for group discussion, presenters couldn’t move beyond their slides (Source).  After watching thousands of presentations, I’ve come to the realization that unless presenters learn how to properly use Keynote or PowerPoint, they should ditch the slideshow completely.  In my class, students present team “Mini Discussions” with the goal of informing us about a particular topic and engaging us in a class activity.  I’ve banned slides for this presentation, and I’ve found that we can have a more natural, human conversation in class on each Mini Discussion topic.

PowerPoint is boring

Molecular biologist John Medina has released a series of Brain Rules books.  Medina tells us that the brain can’t pay attention to boring things.  According to his website, “What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Whether in school or in business, these differences can greatly affect how an audience perceives a given presentation” (Source).

Author Alan Yu’s interview subjects agree.  John Paul Chou, a physics professor at Rutgers, believes that “the main advantage of forgoing PowerPoint is that it forces both the speaker and the listener to pay attention.  With PowerPoint, he says, it’s ‘easier to let your mind go on autopilot and you start to lose focus more easily'” (Source).

I agree.  I’ve been in dozens of meetings, leadership trainings, and board retreats where as soon as the presenter flipped on the PowerPoint, everyone in the audience tuned out.  Since we’ve seen so many bad presentations with slides, our brains are comfortable shutting down as soon as we see the slideshow.  In many cases, the material was important and could have been interesting.

You can tell if your slideshow presentation went over well, and this lead us back to the first point of the NPR article.  If you give your presentation and no one has any questions, you sucked.  If you present your slides and no one has a single thing to offer, to contribute, to discuss, to ask, or to say when you’re finished, your presentation was bad.

PowerPoint is lazy

John Paul Chou of Rutgers “says the problem is simply that ‘we’re so used to giving PowerPoint [presentations] that we forget there are other means of communicating'” (Source).  Consider this: BusinessWeek estimates “350 PowerPoint presentations are given each second across the globe” (Source).  That’s an estimated 30 million PowerPoints every day.  How many of those 30 million presentations actually needed slides?  PowerPoint is the lazy way out, and its purpose is hazy.  Why did those presenters even use slides in the first place?  Could he or she have gone without the slide medium completely?  Could the presenter have done something different?

We also see people use PowerPoint as their speaking notes.  Instead of using the medium properly, a presenter will type all of his/her main points on the slide.  This is lazy.  World-renowned presentation experts Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds tell us that speaking notes belong to the presenter only, and PowerPoint slides should visually reinforce the content.  John Medina explains why: “Vision trumps all other senses.  We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.  Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time” (Source).

Take a look at Nancy Duarte’s “How To Create Better Visual Presentations”

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Learn more about all things effective slide design here.  In the meantime, like NPR’s experts, Medina also suggests we ditch PowerPoint.  He says, “Toss your PowerPoint presentations. It’s text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads—all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Burn your current PowerPoint presentations” (Source).

What are additional reasons why presenters should ditch those PowerPoint slides?

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4 thoughts on “3 Reasons To Ditch Your PowerPoint Slides

  1. I can go along with this, but I have a question I have not seen an answer to. Without slides, how do I remember what to talk about? I’ve heard Steve Jobs’ quote, “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint”. That sounds wonderful, but I do know what I am talking about, yet I get nervous even after many hundreds of presentations. I do not trust that I would remember the overall presentation flow. I don’t need a written-out document, but I do need at least a list of bullet items. Any recommendations on how to keep on track?

    • Hey Gary,

      That’s a great question! Without slides, a presenter must prepare and practice significantly more than just relying on a script to be projected on PowerPoint. I find that more preparation and practice leads to mastery of content and stronger delivery.

      However, preparation and practice doesn’t always ensure a speaker will conquer his or her anxiety, and that’s where notes come in handy. Scott Berkun talks about his trick in Confessions of a Public Speaker. Some TED speakers do the same thing Berkun does. This trick is to write important points on a small index card. The card can fold up and fit in your back pocket, so if you don’t need it, you don’t have to even bring it out.

      The index card trick works well with remembering names and numbers, too. For example, if a name is particularly difficult to pronounce, I might write out the phonetic spelling on the index card. If a number is very specific (like $433,982.11), I might not remember that number, so I might write it on my index card.

      The combination of more preparation, more dress rehearsals/practice, and an index card can really help you feel equipped for success no matter the audience.

      Thanks so much for your question!

      Alex

      • Gary Bisaga

        Thanks for getting back to me Alex! I’ve done lots of presenting but this is the first time I’ve tried seriously to improve myself. I will check out the links you suggested. I can’t wait to try them out in a live presentation! Blessings and thanks… Gary

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