Powerpoint Epiphany – Avoid the Most Common Presentation Flaw

What is the PowerPoint® epiphany that will end the misuse of the popular slide presentation software? The answer is in the three simple statements below.

  1. We use PowerPoint® to create slides.
  2. Slides are a visual tool. Visual.
  3. What do we display with this visual tool? Text.

Not just a touch of text but line after line of words on slide after slide. We include lists, bullet points, sentences, even paragraphs. We’ve seen slides filled with text and numbers from edge to edge and from top to bottom. We’ve seen slides dense with text with a couple of graphics thrown in to dress them up. But a text heavy slide can’t be improved by graphics that compete with, and lose to, row upon row and column after column of text.

PowerPoint® pesentations fail because we take this visual tool and we use it to display documents.

I came across this forehead slapping ‘aha’ moment while reading the excellent antidote to poisonous PowerPoint® presentations–Beyond Bullet Points (Microsoft Press, 2007) by Cliff Atkinson.

The premise of the book is that PowerPoint® is a visual tool that should not be cluttered with text and graphics. To be effective, each slide in the presentation should have a main premise stated simply and one compelling graphic that underscores the premise. That’s it; one thought expressed in one short sentence and one graphic to illustrate and support that thought.

No lists, no bullet points. The presenter provides the details; the PowerPoint® provides the nub of the concept.

Beyond Bullet Points offers great detail on how to organize and create slides that tell a story in a simple, compelling, and logical manner. It offers a radical departure from the ordinary PowerPoint® Presentation format, and when you consider the effectiveness of most PowerPoint® presentations, a radical departure is exactly what is needed. The entire Beyond Bullet Points presentation process is explained in full, illustrated with effective examples, and backed up with compelling research.

After reading Beyond Bullet Points I’ll never approach a PowerPoint® presentation the same way again as a presenter or as an audience member. Neither will you.