Does PowerPoint suck?

May 20th, 2011 by Bob Bly

I have to confess: I once hated PowerPoint. Now I use it in nearly every presentation, mainly because the conferences and webinar producers who ask me to speak insist on it.

Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post is not a fan of PowerPoint.

“Enduring a PowerPoint presentation is rarely informative and never efficient,” Marcus states. “The inevitable cutesy graphics — why think through a tough problem when you can spend your time surfing for clip art or experimenting with fonts — add a bullet point of insult to the injury of having to sit through it.”

“PowerPoint may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience,” writes Edward Tufte in Wired magazine. “The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates form over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.”

Adds Marcus: “The seductive availability of PowerPoint and the built-in drive to reduce all subjects to a series of short-handed bullet points eliminates nuances and enables, even encourages, the absence of serious thinking.”

I use PowerPoint when giving presentations. Do you? Do you agree that bullets and PowerPoint are inherently mind-numbing and boring? Or does it depend on the speaker?

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This entry was posted on Friday, May 20th, 2011 at 1:42 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

17 responses about “Does PowerPoint suck?”

  1. Ryan McGrath said:

    What does Steve Jobs do? Or other speakers you admire?

    A great book on this topic is The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo

    Here’s an excerpt from the author:

    “Apple products are easy to use because of the elimination of clutter. The same approach applies to the slides in a Steve Jobs presentation. They are strikingly simple, visual, and yes, devoid of bullet points. Pictures are dominant. When Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, no words could replace a photo of a hand pulling the notebook computer out of an interoffice manila envelope. Think about it this way—the average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. In some presentations, Steve Jobs has a total of seven words in 10 slides.”

    http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/oct2009/sb2009106_706829.htm

  2. Darren said:

    I think MOST PowerPoint presentations are boring, but not ALL of them.

    Like Ryan mentioned, Steve Jobs is a good example of an effective PowerPoint presenter.

    So there are ways to give dynamic presentations. Another good book is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.

  3. Bob Bly said:

    Of course, I immodestly recommend my book, Persuasive Presentations for Business published by Entrepreneur Press. :)

  4. Lesley Petes said:

    Hi Bob,

    Yes, PowerPoint can be boring. It can also be fun, a creative method for giving a talk, and filled with pictures, collages, intriguing questions, funny or serious quotes, and, pictures.

    You can even add video or music.

    It always depends on who creates the slides, and who who gives the presentation. They are meant to be a resource for the speaker. If you can speak well, and use them for emphasis, so much the better.

    Otherwise, it could be time for a nap!

  5. Neil Arthur said:

    Power Point is not the problem.

    Giving cluttered messaging a powerful tool only makes for a cluttered presentation…content and delivery.

    Contrast a Steve Jobs ppt to a US DOD ppt and you realize the that good Power Point presentations have a simple, clear and powerful message to deliver.

    I believe that is at the core of your writing success, Bob.

  6. Brian Croner said:

    Interesting content with an interesting speaker is good no matter if Power point is or isn’t used. Just as boring speakers delivering boring content won’t be enhanced by the use of Power Point. I use it…mostly because it’s often required in certain, larger venues.

    However, I’m going to be giving a presentation tomorrow to an internet provider and I’m going in with graphics and mock ups on black foam boards. It’s a small venue and there’s no need for a projector.

  7. Flavio Tosi said:

    ppt page = its headline message

    Ciao Bob,
    when I create a ppt, I give the greatest importance to the message shall come out from every page.

    I stick this message in the headline of the ppt page ( and use a lot of Your suggestions to make it clear and pass to the audience). The rest of the page? I use it only to reinforce and make memorable the headline.

    The messages of each page form the argument I want to display with the ppt pitch.

    to me this is so important that I suggest to the person (usually a GM or CEO) that will pitch the ppt to focus her attention only to the headlines.

    If the sequence of headlines conveys what she is willing to tell, the ppt presentation works. If not – there will not be Steve Jobs pitching it, who will make it work.

    To create a ppt like this, some times takes me up to 1 day per page and each presentation ends up in a some 12-15 pages that will be delivered in ca. 20-30 min.

    I got feedbacks like “the Client made us compliments for the clearness of the pitch” or “they never realised befor our strategic options like today” but the ones that I appreciate the most are: “We got the Order!” or “they approved the investments”.

    I suggest to try this: cut out all the headlines of Your ppt presentation and laid them down on a single page. If they make the argument, I bet you are on the right path.

    Bob: Thank You for all what You teach us everyday!

    ciao

    Flavio

  8. Customized Fat Loss said:

    The powerpoint is just a tool. It isn’t the main presentation. The most important part of a presentation is the speaker. No matter how good is the powerpoint, if the speaker is bad, the presentation is bad.

  9. Bodybuilding Diets said:

    I still love using PowerPoint! Back in College, I was thrilled when I would be asked to make a presentation. I always loved using PowerPoint. It’s really just a shame that I’m not using it anymore. But I do agree with Customized Fat Loss. It’s still how the presentation is delivered that matters.

  10. Pam Kock said:

    The trouble with Powerpoint is that it’s incredibly easy to make an incredibly horrible batch of slides. Too many people think that the Powerpoint IS the presentation, instead of just being the accompaniment to a presentation.

    Another problem I see all the time is errors on the slides. Typos abound, margins don’t line up; they look like a third-grader designed them. Folks, if you are bad at spelling and grammar, you might not want your writing projected in front of a roomful of people. At least hire a proofreader.

    Me, I love PP. But people who can’t use it effectively are better off using alternative methods of cuing and illustrating.

  11. Terry said:

    PowerPoint is garbage. It’s like my guitar. Everyone told me, “Get a Fender Strat.” I was ripped off. It just plays lousy music.

    Terry

  12. George Mulak said:

    Wow, another good post and series of comments.

    Terry said it so powerfully, in a reverse way. It’s a tool, how do you play it?

    I say learn, ask friends (or even better, enemies) what they think of it and make it better, more powerful.

    My wife, Vicki Mulak, makes presentations on Tax topics. VERY boring, potentially. But her humour, her supporting materials, and well designed slides accentuating only what is important (KISS) saves the day.

    I love reading billboards. I learn from them what works on a powerpoint slide. So many of them are cluttered with so much stuff. Oft-times I am driving by at 60 MPH, I have 1/2 second to read it and go, Huh? Who just spend $10,000 on that? What company is it? What did they say or trying to say? I wonder who these “professionals” in marketing and advertising are sometimes. Match the message to the media – simple guys.

    My favourite (so far) of all-time was Disney’s New release of Toy Story. The whole ad was Buz Lightyear with that smile of his, flying. The only text on the whole billboard was the date of the new release. I laughed, I got it, I saw it. Awesome

    AND – read the posts above, great stuff folks. Sincerely.

  13. Will Barnes said:

    I have never used Power Point in any of my presentations. However, this year I had an incident that was revealing to me. I was preparing to make a presentation and asked one of the hotel personnel for a flip chart. He looked at me as if I was crazy.

    Apparently no one has ever asked him for a flip chart. Well I did because I am a proponent of Winging It. It has been my experience over the decades that I have been speaking to groups that Winging It allows me to more effectively engage with my audience.

    Nevertheless both because of this experience and the expectations of my current audiences, I will begin integrating Power Point in my presentations.

    As I say in my writings, It will be a challenge for me because I agree that Power Point is inherently mind-numbing and boring, I have sat through many presentations of others that definitely confirms that. It does depend upon the speaker taking it upon him or her self to maintain that key connection with the audience.

  14. David Denis said:

    The finest example of good quality ppt presentation is the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” Regardless of what you think of the message, Al Gore does a stellar job. Here is why it is worth watching as a tutorial:

    Gore has memorized his talk. He is not reading bullet points. He is talking. His talking is supported by the slide content.

    There are no bullet points.

    Each slide contain one single idea.

    Each slide is a *visual* representation of the point Gore is making verbally.

    Therefore each slide enhances the point he is discussing at that moment.

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