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Ban PowerPoint at online events

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: April 28, 2020

Slides are often unnecessary, regularly misused and more than likely a pointless addition to your presentation.

Yeah, I said it. Don’t pretend you haven’t ever thought the same.

It’s almost always the same story. Take one nervous or unthinking presenter, add a desire to cram as much info as possible into a talk, lob in access to PowerPoint and what do you get?

A talk with 24 slides per minute, each including fifteen bullet points, a tiny drawing or chart that looks like it could be either a shocked cat or a complex equation, and an audience who could have learned just as much, if not more, by simply downloading the slides themselves and reading them over a cup of coffee.

Where video is available, the vast majority of virtual presentations don’t need slides, shouldn’t have slides and don’t benefit from slides.

The No Slide rule explained

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the BP20 online conference and I shocked a few people by dispensing with slides entirely. I had noticed, from previous webinars elsewhere and even from another talk at the same conference, that slides actually serve as a distraction.

If the speaker is simply making some specific points, they are better making them clearly and with conviction, with their face to the camera. Having a bullet point flash up on the screen often slows them down or derails their thinking.

If they are tempted to make too many points, they’d be better making fewer points and getting them right. It’s much better to have two really strong messages than 20 tiny details.

If a speaker wants to show an example, a picture says more than many words and a physical prop is always more interesting than a list of bullet points or a tiny table.

Instead of turning to PowerPoint right away, we need to put far more emphasis on creativity, connection and relevance.

Reading dulls your speaking

Have you ever been in a church service where people read out some Bible verses together or recite something? It turns even the most excitable people into slow drones.

Exactly the same thing happens with PowerPoint. The most passionate speaker starts reading out a list of bullets and fumbling for their words. The most enthusiastic audience catches themselves reading instead of listening. And anyone at home can just make do with putting the presenter on mute.

Interpreters spend their entire careers warning speakers of the danger of reading from a text. We need to warn them about the dangers of PowerPoint too!

Constrain, Create, Connect

Here’s my point. If we can get people away from PowerPoint during virtual events, we will get better events.

If speakers think they need to present huge lists of figures, what they need to create is an email or a memo, not a presentation.

If speakers feel that they need to make 101 points in size 8 font, they need to learn to concentrate on the points that matter, not everyone they could make.

If speakers really feel that they have to use tons of pictures, diagrams, or charts, then they need to think about how people learn, not what they want to say.

In short, by banning PowerPoint and its kin for every virtual event where there is a video feed, we can help people do three vital things to their talks:

Constrain what they say by sticking to the most important points for the audience and the 2-3 things they want people to remember.

Create talks that are a pleasure to listen to and go far beyond just passing information.

Connect with the audience, rather than just treating each talk like a direct brain dump.

The more event organisers help speakers concentrate on those three things, the better our online events will be.

Thank you for reading this post. If you really want to boost your speaking skills, I created a course just for you. You can find it here: http://bit.ly/PSBB-Course.