PowerPoint – the death of the presentation?

November 16th, 2016


Inside and looking up, Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Frank Lloyd-Wright, the great Wisconsin-born American architect, father of the Prairie School and designer of the first earthquake-proof tower block, famously asserted that mankind discovered permanent building materials fifty years before we were responsible enough to use them. I have very similar feelings about PowerPoint.

As readily-available, easy-to-use, presentation production environments go PowerPoint is a superb piece of software. But it’s the very things that have made PowerPoint so popular that have, in my opinion, caused the near death of the presentation itself.

BMO (Before Microsoft Office) someone facing the task of delivering a presentation would have plotted their points in a notebook, written up some cue cards and rehearsed their speech, then sent off some rough sketches or written descriptions to an art department to get interesting illustrative graphics drawn up and output to slide or even OHP acetates. This process was long, not very nimble and probably expensive and so when PowerPoint came along the presentation giver could write their speech directly in the programme (no need for cue cards anymore) and they could easily import any number of photos and videos themselves without needing to involve any of those expensive creative types. Autonomy at last – PowerPoint to the people! Yes, but so often the wrong people.

I remember a seminar once where the speaker exited ‘slide show mode’ to find a previous section and I noticed with horror that there were 264 slides in total. TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY FOUR! I actually started to think about friends and family I might never see again, significant birthdays I would miss, entire cultural movements that would appear, flourish and fade without me if I were to sit through the entire thing. I think everyone knows what I’m talking about here – and many of us will be secretly remembering the times we ourselves have stood speaking the very same words that are appearing on the screen behind us and hoping that the splattering of clip art images hastily gathered from a Google search will create some kind of miraculous visual impact.

In contrast I want you to think about the best TED talks you’ve seen (here’s my favourite) – the speaker holding the audience’s attention with a well-planned narrative, their supporting graphics often very simple, illustrating their salient points memorably. Sound familiar? Oh yes! This is how we used to do it BMO!

So what’s to be done? Great presentations can and indeed have been made with the aid of PowerPoint and here’s my considered advice on how to achieve greatness:

  • Give yourself a little more time than usual to prepare
  • Know your audience and keep them in your mind – always
  • Work out what your points are (don’t be surprised if there are fewer than you thought) and work up a great narrative to tell their story
  • Storyboard ideas to illustrate your points as persuasively, dramatically, engagingly as possible – enlist the help of a professional if you are not creative
  • Open PowerPoint (if you have opened it already, close it and reopen with a new, blank file – you can do this, it’s about breaking bad habits!) and create the slides you have storyboarded
  • Practise your presentation – without your entire speech written out, memory, delivery and stagecraft may all need polishing up

Deceptively simple guidance – I don’t think for one moment that I’m revealing anything you don’t already know here. My point is that I’m suggesting a process that prolonged exposure to and use of PowerPoint has probably convinced you is no longer necessary.

I think our friend Frank can deal with that conviction – ask yourself this: how would it feel if he took your latest presentation, cast it in tablets of concrete and left it as a public monument to your work?


  1. As an ex KMPG Global Account Director and Financial Management & Performance Consultant, I am only too aware of the points made in the blog above, as ‘Death by Powerpoint’ (as we use to call it at KPMG) can destroy a meeting of minds that would have been better served by a face to face conversation. Having said that, Powerpoint is still better than Word for getting a message across and a slide deck of 5 or 6 slides can be very powerful if part of an interactive conversation. I once won a £6.5million contact with just a few slides and an interactive conversation of about two hours with five people around just one of those slides which was blown up to A0 (0.8m x 1.2m). It is also worth mentoning that a longer slide deck, as a ‘leave behind’, is also of value as it allows people to use the deck as a point of reference to check their understanding (or raise further questions) after a meeting.

    by: Ken Davey on 18th November 2016 at 1:53 pm


    • Thanks for reading Ken, interesting to know that the deathly effects of PowerPoint reach all the way to the top, and you have highlighted a really important point (in fact you could call it a powerfulPoint!) that the deck you use to engage people during your presentation should invariably be different to what you leave or distribute as a ‘going away present’. It may feel like doubling your work, but as you have so brilliantly illustrated in your winning example, how much better to have really focused your work on making something happen than to have wasted your hard work ‘spraying widely’.

      by: shaell on 18th November 2016 at 5:22 pm


  2. Powerpoint is too often used as a comfort blanket. Nervous and ill prepared presenters have been known to turn their back on their audience and read the slides. Clearly this is the worst possible use of powerpoint and serves to make the presenter look inadequate rather than confident and assured.

    But as your piece articulates, powerpoint used to emphasise messages, illustrate points and entertain can be an invaluable tool to help make a presentation more memorable.

    by: Nicky Fuller on 22nd November 2016 at 8:38 am


    • Thanks Nicky, your comment has made me wonder if, rather like Microsoft Office doesn’t come with the Access database programme unless you can prove you are complying with Data Protection laws, perhaps it shouldn’t ship with PowerPoint either unless you can prove you are capable of using it as a non-boring tool rather than the comfort blanket you’ve described. A bit Gestapo-like perhaps but think what an enormous difference it would make to everyone’s work-life.

      by: shaell on 22nd November 2016 at 11:51 am


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