PowerPoint karaoke: a user’s guide

If the word ‘karaoke’ means ’empty orchestra’, maybe the word ‘PowerPoint’ should mean empty head.

That’s because, all too often, PowerPoint is not used as an aid to thinking but as a substitute for it. The presenter hasn’t put any thought into what to say, so the audience is treated to a presentation about as interesting as the latest issue of Coffins & Caskets: the magazine for undertakers.

Like anything else, PowerPoint has its strengths and its weaknesses. Its strengths are its ability to put complex things simply, and to use pictures instead of words to bring concepts alive.

Those are pretty useful attributes. So why do so many people’s eyes glaze over as soon as a presenter puts that opening slide on the screen? Because they’ve been there before – and they know that there’s a very good chance that they will be bored witless.

Why? Because those undoubted strengths are easily overpowered by PowerPoint’s weaknesses – in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it properly.

Many people seem to think that what you should do with a PowerPoint presentation is slavishly read out exactly what’s on the screen. Not a word more, not a word less. In fact, most people at PowerPoint presentations can see perfectly well, and haven’t been read to for at least 20 years.

Similarly, some presenters attempt to put far too many words on the screen. A PowerPoint slide is not a brochure, nor is it the small print at the end of a contract. It should be punchy, immediate and memorable. Have a few words up and talk around them.

Also, PowerPoint is by its nature factual, logical, clinical – and cold. But your audience are (hopefully) human beings. If you’re trying to enthuse, energise, motivate or excite them, you need to add some personality to the presentation. The best personality to use is your own. Smile. Tell a story or two. Get some passion into it.

Think of the great speeches of the past. What about Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech? If you’ve ever seen that on film you’ll know how powerful it was. Now imagine it on PowerPoint:

ringing from:

  • New Hampshire (prodigious hilltops)
  • New York (mighty mountains)
  • Rockies of Colorado (snow-capped)
  • California (curvaceous slopes)

I think you get the idea.

To stop PowerPoint being like some cringeworthy karaoke session in a bar, all you need are five simple points. In fact, you could summarise them very well in a PowerPoint slide:

PowerPoint should:

  • Be punchy
  • Be clear
  • Be interesting
  • Help the audience
  • Have personality

It can help to bear the opposites in mind. In other words, if your presentation is rambling, obscure, full of jargon or technospeak, dull, of no use to the audience, and as hilarious as a legal textbook, you need to look at it again.

Finally, try the real PowerPoint karaoke sometime – it’s a great icebreaker. Take a genuine PowerPoint presentation of some product or service that you know nothing about, read out the slides and try to make sense of it. You might have fun doing so – which is probably more than either the original presenter or audience did.

By David Vickery


Published On: 2nd Sep 2012

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  1. Brilliant article! Sadly, though, most peple who should read it won’t!

    Steve 27 Feb at 5:42 pm
  2. people, not peple!

    Steve 27 Feb at 5:43 pm
  3. The PowerPoint presentation ought not to stand on its own… it should need the presenter!

    Megan 21 Sep at 4:01 pm