Presentation Magazine

Time to ditch the PowerPoint?

Is there a point to PowerPoint?  Jack Downton believes that it gets in the way of delivering a good presentation.  In this article he argues why.

Is there a point to PowerPoint? The opportunity to present facts and figures, slides and graphs, data and numbers, proves too much for some, and often enough information is crammed into PowerPoint to fill a phone book. However, the aim of any presentation should be to command the undivided attention of your audience. When Barack Obama delivered his inauguration address in Washington DC, he didn’t ask the million-strong crowd in front of him to direct their attention to ‘Slide B’.

And for centuries, politicians, leaders and academics have given rousing speeches without so much as a glimpse of a screen – in fact, I’m not sure how well Churchill would have fared if he’d actually said, “We shall fight them on the beaches – like this one shown here for illustrative purposes”.

PowerPoint has its place and is often a wonderful resource, but it needs to be used appropriately.  The brain doesn’t listen and read at the same time. If you’re talking and there’s a slide up with text and data, no one will be listening to what you’re saying. With slides you need to remember that the audience will not be concentrating on you. And if they aren’t concentrating on you, they certainly won’t remember your points or be influenced by what you are saying. Ask yourself, who have they come to see – you as a highly competent professional or you as a highly paid slide show operator?

Also ask yourself if the slides are for your benefit or the audience’s.  If the slides are really your notes, don’t use them.

Yet if you need to use slides, just allow your audience time to take the information in. Keep sentences short, provide only key points on your slide, and limit punctuation and abbreviations.  If used, use them sparingly, especially those containing only words. Introduce the slide before you show it, have key data highlighted and give the audience a chance to read the data before talking over the slide (remember they can’t read the chart and listen carefully to you simultaneously).

If you do use slides, keep them to a minimum. The number of slides depends on the length of your presentation, but the fewer the better, or impact is lost. Consider including the odd blank slide which will ensure you regain the focus of attention. Or go without them entirely. You need to shine, not the screen…

Jack Downton

Jack Downton

Jack Downton is the Managing Director of The Influence Business (


Published On: 14th Dec 2009

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  1. Brilliant, I completely agree with you on this one!

    Would have been funny to actually see Obama do it though and hey, thinking about it, it could have actually aided Bush!

    Haha, I’m just kidding.

    Matt 15 Dec at 6:29 pm
  2. Jack, the point is a good one.

    Given that my space is the virtual presentation (e.g., web seminars/webinars), more often than not PowerPoint is not an option, but I propose to clients the same proposition: great handouts make lousy slides, and great slides make lousy handouts.

    We make jokes about PowerPoint (and webinars too, for that matter)…but the blame shouldn’t be the tools, it should be the misapplication.

    To your point, if it’s not helping, it’s hurting. Great post.

    Roger Courville
    Author, The Virtual Presenter’s Handbook

    Roger Courville 29 Dec at 4:27 pm
  3. The example is so funny.

    Susan 13 Jan at 3:44 pm
  4. “…for centuries, politicians, leaders and academics have given rousing speeches without so much as a glimpse of a screen…”
    But did you all notice that they waved their hands, used facial expressions and also what is nowadays called body language?
    Don’t teachers help their classes writing topics in the “black” board? For some reason humans assume that the voice/word is not enough, it needs a visual aid to improve the delivery of the message.

    “The brain doesn’t listen and read at the same time.”
    An absolutely wrong scientific “rule” propalated by some USA’s pseudo-scientific specialists that should stop looking at their own belly button and start noticing that the world is much more than the reality of their neighborhood.

    If “the brain doesn’t listen and read at the same time” how to explain that many people’s brains, from other origins in the planet do, not just listen and read but also watch at the same time, specially in places like mine (Portugal) where we watch foreign movies with subtitles since childhood? Do we have superpowers?
    No! It’s a simple question of being “used to” or… training.

    So, as a presentations designer, I assume that some principles for presentations are different from place to place according with local experiences, and the skills of those creating and designing presentations.

    And of course “great handouts make lousy slides, and great slides make lousy handouts” as long as they are developed by the wrong persons.

    Miguel.M 16 Jan at 8:58 pm
  5. there’s a time and a place for powerpoint, as with any other speaking aid. But it’s important to recognise that this is all that powerpoint is ‘a speaking AID’. it should never be the presentation itself that’s leading the speaker, and always the other way around. if you’re providing a room with the yearly takings, or a graph showing some worrying trend, then of course powerpoint is useful, but allows acknowledge that this is a BARRIER between you and the audience, in terms of engaging them as a performer. the worst presentations people come to me with are those which use the powerpoint seemingly purely as a way of getting people’s attentions – every other word appearing in word-art, needlessly complicated graphics etc. the most interesting powerpoint in the world is still less engaging than the speaker, in ninety percent of the cases. so the message is, be sparing with how much powerpoint you use, and remember to always keep it as an aid and never a lead.


    Daran 10 Jun at 12:47 pm
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