Has anyone who’s ever had to sit through your typical PowerPoint presentation truly remembered anything that was on the screen?
The headline to this article will be more memorable than the thousands of presentations given today of which tens of thousands of people will endure.
So what is it about PowerPoint and people’s need to cram 20 pounds of crap in a ten-pound slide onscreen with their hopes and dreams believing this is the best way to get their message across when study after study proves otherwise? The reality is nobody wants to see your PowerPoint. As the Quartz article, linked above states “the tedious PowerPoint slide deck has become a well-worn cliché of numbing office life, the communication equivalent of a jammed copy machine, and the program has been blamed for everything from dumbing down university education to crippling the US military.” And it’s true.
Has anyone who’s ever had to sit through your typical PowerPoint presentation truly remembered anything that was on the screen? Go ahead, dear reader, tell something in any detail from any slide at the last presentation you were not directly involved in creating? Tell me in an email or message. I’ll wait.
Countless studies most ignore also know the answer, that being no, you don’t remember the messages in long PowerPoint presentations. And yet, today like every other day someone, somewhere, out there, in an act of futility, is creating a presentation, probably enlisting others, burning countless office hours that could be used doing more meaningful work, probably in a panic, at the last minute, on an insane deadline, to deliver yet another overwrought drawn-out presentation that nobody will remember. The U.S. is wasting an estimated $250 million on needless PowerPoint, how much of that is coming from your organization?
The great book “Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint” by Christopher Witt echoes my history working at Adobe, Coca-Cola Global, The Home Depot, and other large International brands where PowerPoint was kept to a bare minimum. Our leadership at these global companies knew PowerPoint is not how you reach people, be they internal or external audiences, save for a few rogue executives who insisted they do longwinded presentation where, behind their backs, they eren’t taken as seriously as they presumed by their peers and direct reports. No where was this more true than when working on the West Coast, leaders led through passion, vision, and storytelling, things a PowerPoint presentation will always be woefully inept to cover the human condition, stage presence will always prevail. Time is money, take the shortest route to share your vision – the shortest route is not through PowerPoint.
The late great Steve Jobs liked presentations so much he pretty much created Keynotesupposedly just for himself before it became part of Apple’s Office Suite. Jobs, as all great leaders, when presenting was much like his Apple products, hyper-minimal. Jobs used his presentation purely as supplemental to the story and the vision he laid out to the audience. The presentation was not, in fact, the vision, nor was it the message for Steve Jobs or Apple, it was merely a background, it was never the information. Slides were kept simply on one point, one product, one number or very few words to support his message, it was never the message itself.
Need proof? Watch the master in this 3:39 YouTube video on the launch of the iPhone in 2007. Do you see bullets? Pie charts? Long-winded puzzle pieces going into some pithy length of strategy and abstract concepts nobody can follow? No. Icons, a few words, all supporting his powerful launch of a communications breakthrough called the iPhone, something that heralded a sea change in the world.
I’ve done periphery work for TED Talks seen by hundreds of millions of people. Go ahead, look through most top 25 list of TED Talks. Do you see bullets? A lot of words? No, an image or a few words tops supporting the speaker for maximum impact of their message, a message that comes out of their mouths, directly impacting the audience, not from the screen.
The most-watched TED Talk is by Sir Ken Robinson “Do Schools Kill Creativity” and it has a total of zero slides. Sir Ken I’ve had the pleasure of seeing speak outside of TED, in which he talked at length about colleges and creativity. He was supported for a 1.5-hour speech and a total of four (4) slides – he received a standing ovation. The 2,000+ audience hung on his every word, and I remember his message about higher education pluses and minuses word for word over a year later. Sir Ken could probably deliver a presentation “does PowerPoint kill creativity” for which, much like do schools, the answer would be a resounding “yes.”
Minimal to no slides is how TED rolls, in fact, they all but insist their talks are done with as few and least complex slides as possible for the specific reason that is the best way to spread your message and reach people. “If you really think you need slides to support your message, your message probably isn’t worth it” as I was told by one TED presenter. Slides at TED are specifically ONLY a means to support what the speaker is trying to get across, never the message itself. The speaker is up front, if you have a takeaway, it is purely what the speaker says about the subject they’re an expert on, not what’s on screen. Your takeaway is what was delivered by the speaker and speaker alone, nothing more, nothing less. By design, by human nature in fact, that’s how real, true, honest messaging reaches an audience, NOT through PowerPoint, but by you, the speaker, connecting.
I’m in higher ed and recently in my organization has seen an over-the-top fever pitch to do more and more PowerPoint presentations at the inordinate expense of time and human resources for arguably very little in terms of outcomes. Anecdotally, during these presentations I see a room full of people spacing out, some playing games on their mobile phones, others doing work, most aren’t following along, certainly not nearly on the level the speaker thinks they are.
Reaching out to a wide, vast pool of my peers at universities and colleges as a sort-of reality check, an “is this a thing now? Using insane time-and-energy to prepare presentations given at great length to employees and students who zone out?” The response was resounding from my equals in marketing and communications offices everywhere, ranging from “has your administration lost their minds” to “you need to set policy to curb that” to “are people making busy work to hide maybe they’re strategy can’t be summed up easily and delivered with conviction?”
Biting, but truthful honest opinions from people in higher education working at some of the top schools in the country. The best schools eschew PowerPoint as not the ideal way of getting the message across, but rather promote those giving presentations to connect in as few slides, if any, as possible. Occam’s Razor at its finest.
The message is the person, not the presentation. One school, one template, unclutter, be succinct. Anyone with sanity, in their gut and heart of hearts, that is how it’s done. Design is window dressing, it’s meaningless, your message is everything. As I’ve given talks about, ones without many slides, content is king, work on your content, your message, your story, not some elaborate presentation because, end of the day, nobody cares. One could say “but I care so I need to do this” but I can guarantee you that YOU are not your audience.
Progressive schools that understand the proper use, or lack, of PowerPoint, are akin to successful businesses of 2018 and beyond, those that embrace the message comes from a person, not a projector. Those schools, much like businesses, will thrive in the future who understand time and effort is money, that direct messaging counts, none of which will come through giving yet another drawn-out PowerPoint presentation. In fact, a review of PowerPoint in higher education proved PowerPoint is not an effective learning tool. If it isn’t working for the education of student audiences, it’s not going to be for general audiences either.
From an ROI perspective, all that busywork creating PowerPoint could be better spent creating tangible, meaningful messaging; working directly with the people you need to reach the most, in the most human way possible – a human way is certainly not PowerPoint.
In giving talks, which I’ve done dozens to hundreds across many disciplines, the best ones where people hang around after and remember me and my talks, bringing them up to me years later, were often just me, on stage, with a message, captivating the audience.
Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather make a real connection? Isn’t that the point of presenting your ideas in the first place? Focus on you, your message, and your organization first. People will not care about your PowerPoint, but you can make them care about you and, in the end, wouldn’t you rather be memorable? Be memorable, lose the PowerPoint.