In Defence of PowerPoint (and a Colleague)

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Fellow presentation enthusiast Nicole Gugger recently posted an article (in German) defending PowerPoint against all the boilerplate criticism. Bashing PowerPoint is popular. It has almost become a meme. Yet, as Nicole points out, they are aiming at the wrong target: Not the tool is to blame but the person using it.

I found it funny that she has now been "challenged" to a sort of duel by another presentation coach. He suggested that she'd do a couple of presentations in PowerPoint and he'd do the same with only a flip chart - and then let people decide which one is better.

While that sounds like a fun thing to do, it completely misses the point of Nicole's article.

The Real Reasons for Bad Presentations

Again, the point of the article was that it's not the tool that is to blame for a bad presentation. You can do a bad presentation with a flip chart or you can do a good presentation using any slideware app (including, to mention another popular target of ridicule, Prezi).

As Nicole points out, bad presentations come about because people are not told how to do better, because they simply copy the bad habits of others, or because they don't spend the necessary time to prepare the topic for their target audience.

Notice how none of those reasons mentions the technology used for the actual presentation.

In Defence of Bullet Points (sort of)

To add another argument that I use in my presentation workshops: People sit down at their computer way too early. They've been told to do a presentation, so they open their laptop and fire up PowerPoint (or whatever software they're using). What they see there is a slide template - a form that they have to fill in. The computer is telling them what to do, so they start filling out the form: I need to talk about this, explain that, ... Soon, they've created slides upon slides filled with bullet points; and then a sense of accomplishment settles in: My presentation is almost done!

As we all know, the result will be a bad and boring presentation. So is PowerPoint to blame for this? Of course not!

What I just described is an important first step in preparing a presentation. It's called brainstorming. Unfortunately, the human was using the wrong tool for the job. PowerPoint was not made for brainstorming.

It's perfectly okay to come up with a list of bullet points during brainstorming. We humans (and especially my usual target audience, technically-minded people) love to make lists. There's nothing wrong with them - as long as we don't use them in our presentations.

Pick the Best Tool afterwards

Once we've done the brainstorming and know what it is that we have to tell our audience, it's time to think about the how. Which tool would be best suited? Admittedly, we tend to lean towards PowerPoint and its ilk, mainly because it's convenient - putting up slides is less work (during the presentation - not necessarily during preparation). Slides - when done right - have their advantages, mainly with the use of visuals (I had to laugh when the above-mentioned challenger asked Nicole to not only use photos in her presentations for the suggested duel). In some situations, a flip chart may work just as well - or even better. Simon Sinek's famous TED talk is a good example of flip chart use (but it doesn't always work, not even for him).

Again, it's about picking the right tool for the job. Claiming that you can "on average" do a better presentation with a flip chart is just silly and makes me question the expertise of the person making such a statement. I would have thought that we, as presentation coaches, left these discussions behind us a long time ago.

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Creative Commons Licence "In Defence of PowerPoint (and a Colleague)" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.