The Perilous Pitfalls of PowerPoint, Part One

“What’s the Point of PowerPoint?”

It’s ubiquitous, everywhere from TED Talks to teachers’ classrooms. When done well, PowerPoint is a great complement to a speaker’s presentation. When done poorly…unfortunately, we can all finish that sentence.

I just spent two days coaching the presenters for the Ignite Asheville event. The format of an Ignite talk is simple but tough—you get twenty slides, and the deck auto-advances every fifteen seconds. The slides march inexorably on, whether you’ve said everything you meant to say or not.

This year’s twelve Ignite Asheville speakers talked about a range of topics, from the life lessons learned by hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail to being a “geek dad” to the concept of community time-banking. All of the ideas were interesting. All of the speakers were passionate. Not all of the presentations featured a seamless fusion between the speaker and their deck.

I found myself wondering, “If you took the slides away, what would we miss from these presentations?” Sometimes, the answer was “Nothing.”

And this is a good thing and a bad thing. I firmly believe that a speaker should be ready to give a talk with no technological support at all. If the deck makes your talk, you should probably just email it to your audience. So sometimes when I thought, “we could lose the slides,” it was because the speakers were so good that the deck wasn’t adding anything to the talk.

However, I love when a well-timed and well-rehearsed slide pops up to underscore or tweak the speaker’s point. When well done, a PowerPoint presentation is like a duet or a pas de deux. The speaker and the slides merge to make something bigger than either of them alone, engaging more of our creative and analytic brain to put all the aspects of the talk together.

How do you make sure you’re using PowerPoint effectively? Stay tuned for Part Two…

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