Why Anti-PowerPoint Arguments Are Invalid

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 2 comments

Why Anti-PowerPoint Arguments are Invalid

It beggars belief that we’re still having this conversation, but the fact is that there are people out there who are still vehemently anti-PowerPoint, or anti-any type of slideware for that matter. These people believe that using slides as visual aids is a sure-fire way to bore and alienate audiences, and that no self-respecting presenter would stoop so low.

This conversation has got kind of old now. Here, once and for all, we’re going to refute the anti-PowerPoint arguments.

Argument 1. Visuals distract attention from the presenter.

That they might. But when was the presenter the focus of the presentation? Every single presentation is about its message and achieving its objectives, not about stroking the presenter’s ego. Taking the focus away from the presenter and putting it on the messages that need to be communicated results in far more effective communication. If slides don’t break any fundamental rules (such as those in our Visual Aids Gone Wrong article), they will help rather than hinder.

Of course, at times the presenter will want the audience to just listen. If a presenter really wants them to pay attention to something being said, the PowerPoint screen can be blacked out temporarily by hitting the ‘B’ key.

Argument 2. Audiences can’t read and listen at the same time.

Absolutely. This claim is valid, and is exactly why slides shouldn’t be text-heavy, and why bullet points don’t work. Slides should be visual. Saying that any slides don’t help is ridiculous – do you have issues listening to the dialogue in a film because you’re distracted by what you’re seeing? Bad slides make it difficult for the audience to listen to the presenter. Effective slides make it easier for them to assimilate the information.

Argument 3. Slides are just cues for the presenter.

Bad slides and bullet points are. Effective, visual slides are not. Slides should not be text or bullet point based, but should instead be focused on what will help the audience absorb the message. Slides should, in fact, encourage the presenter to rehearse the presentation before delivery. If a slide can act as a cue for a presenter who does not really know his content, it makes sense on its own. If it makes sense on its own, the audience does not need the presenter to explain it – and therefore there is no reason for the presenter to be there at all. Slides should be designed for the audience, and not for the presenter.

Argument 4. Slides discourage presenters from becoming good presenters.

Really, this statement claims the wrong cause and effect. Not all presenters can be brilliant. Not all presenters are charismatic and confident enough to stand up in front of a crowd of people without props and give an amazing, memorable presentation. But even the best presenters know when visual support (e.g. a graph) is necessary.

Effective slides help amateur presenters give amazing presentations. And they help great presenters be even better.

Argument 5. Slides are boring.

Yes, bullet points and text-heavy, over-complicated slides are boring. But effective slides don’t make sense without the presenter, and so draw audiences into the content. Slides that use Visual Cognitive Dissonance actually encourage audiences to pay attention because they want to know what comes next.

Saying PowerPoint slides are boring is like saying ‘all presentations are boring’. Don’t tar everyone with the same brush.

Argument 6. Presenters use too many slides.

This calls to mind the question: How long is a piece of string?

The number of slides in a presentation has nothing to do with its length, let alone its effectiveness. Depending on the complexity of the message and the presenter’s patter, a slide could take ten minutes to present, or it could take ten seconds. And none of this has any bearing on how effective the presentation is.

Of course, there are best practices around presentation length, and these can impact audience engagement. But if breaks and interactive segments are correctly planned into a presentation, its overall length should have little impact on its overall effectiveness.

Argument 7. Having fixed slide content doesn’t enable you to react to audience preferences.

This is an argument against a presentation approach, not against PowerPoint. The complaint is against rigid presentation structures, which can prove inflexible to audience needs. There are arguments for and against an entirely flexible approach, and every presenter should consider these carefully.

Yet presenters who don’t use PowerPoint can – and often do – still deliver content in a fixed structure with no interactivity. Similarly, PowerPoint can be used to create interactive presentations that audiences can set the agenda for. PowerPoint is just the platform, and the presenter should take responsibility for the structure.

Argument 8. PowerPoint is not suitable for all presentations.

And the argument here is…. Well, actually, there isn’t one. Because PowerPoint isn’t suitable for all presentations. Just as road travel isn’t suitable for all journeys, or a hug isn’t suitable for all greetings. For any presentation, you need to consider the best platform for the job. Even at m62, we do the occasional presentation without PowerPoint – check out this video of m62 CEO Nick Oulton delivering a presentation with nothing but a pen and an overhead projector.

What’s important to remember though is that the fact that PowerPoint isn’t suitable for some presentations doesn’t mean that it is unsuitable for all presentations. When used well, and in an appropriate setting, PowerPoint provides a genuinely effective platform that enables presenters to communicate their messages effectively.

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2 Comments to Why Anti-PowerPoint Arguments Are Invalid

  1. #1

    Clive K

    12:18 am, December 22nd, 2012

    Thanks for a good succinct rebuttal of the blanket anti-PPT diktat, which is becoming all too prevalent. As a former international executive, now doing regular university presentations, I agree that there ARE lots of tedious and/or dull PPT presentations – maybe publishers and lecturers are equally to blame: support sites’ default slides are often just bullet-point laden summaries of a textbook’s main chapters.
    As you emphasise, it really doesn’t have to be like that. The corollary is that time and thought need to be put into creating visual slides. Frankly, I’d love to have m62′s help with more of mine (HEI budgets, alas!) – there are some wonderful teaching and learning opportunities out there!
    Though, a warning to all lecturers: students are already tiring of the recent trend to using more visually dynamic (but instantly recognisable?) Prezi presentations, as the novelty begins to wear off. Your arguments about PPT are equally applicable to Prezi (even without the bullet points)!

  2. #2

    Jessica Pyne

    10:26 am, January 3rd, 2013

    Thanks, Clive – good to see others are on board with this! And I completely agree with regards to Prezi – presenters often jump to the latest fads to improve their slides, without stopping to think why their slides need improving in the first place! These arguments are really applicable to any sort of slideware, or anything presenters use for visual aids. Too much emphasis is placed on the platform, and not enough on the content.