What not to present – or why less is more

PowerPoint reminds me a little of my electric piano. It’s got more sounds on it than I can shake a stick at – but I only use a handful of them. I might find a use for a few more of them, one day. But with most of those “voices”, I’d just get laughed at if I used them in public.

It’s the same with PowerPoint. You can do lots of different things with it. But just because you can, it doesn’t mean that you should. In fact, the smart presenters would never consider using certain of its facilities. Those tend to be the ones whose presentations are interesting, fun and absorbing – rather than those putting their audiences to sleep.

Take tables of data, for instance. There’s no difficulty putting the most complex matrix up on the screen. But it’s almost never a wise move.

People won’t be able to read the figures from the back of the room; and those who can read them will get lost trying to follow them. Tables are death to a presentation. If they’re vital, hand them out afterwards. Far better to summarise the key point that all those figures are making.

It’s equally easy to put screeds of words on each slide. So easy is it, indeed, that many amateur presenters do this without thinking. But this is another facility that’s best left in the box.

Why? Because if people are reading, they’re not listening. If you’re standing at the front reading something out while words are on the screen, the audience’s attention will be torn two ways. It’s a much better idea to have three words on the screen and talk around each one rather than having 30.

It’s also good to have no words at all on some slides. A graph, or a simple diagram, can make a more powerful point than any number of words. Contrast a presenter saying “Last year, our sales rose by 25.7 per cent, with March and September producing the best month” and presenting those facts in a graph. The key points are grasped almost instantly – and much more dramatically.

Another thing that’s best not to present is a long presentation. People have short attention spans: probably no more than 10 minutes for most of us. And as John Medina, author of Brain Rules, points out, we don’t pay attention to boring things. So if you have a 30-minute presentation, you’re likely to lose your audience a third of the way through. (Or sooner than that if your presentation is boring.)

There are ways round this, of course. The obvious one is to shorten your presentation. Almost everything benefits from being tightened up and pruned of irrelevancy. If it really can’t be shortened, break it up. After ten minutes or so, do something to catch your audience’s attention. Turn off the projector, walk around, ask them questions. Then you can resume with them interested again.

Many presenters seem to forget that audiences have more than one sense. Stimulate those other senses – so long as you remember that vision will always win out. PowerPoint is great for running short, impactful video clips, for example, complete with arresting sound.

Last but not least, what you definitely don’t want to present is an unrehearsed presentation. Reading a presentation through is not rehearsing it. Read it out loud, preferably to someone who can comment on any weaknesses. You might feel silly, or you might think you haven’t got the time. But the fact is, you will have to run through the presentation – either beforehand, or in front of your audience when it will be too late to fix anything that doesn’t work.

Used correctly, PowerPoint is a great tool. It can enliven presentations and make your points really stand out. All you need to do is be selective of its facilities and use them wisely. Because people don’t want tables of data, screens full of words or rambling presentations any more than they want Bach or Beethoven played on “Goblin Pad” or “Blown Bottle”.

By David Vickery


Published On: 16th Oct 2009

Read more about -
Presentation Articles ,

1 Comment
  1. I agree with what you said about making your presentation alive and engaging and I would really appreciate you giving me some pointers on doing a presentation on Grooming and Attire for a
    presentation on the 4/11/09. My email address in


    Audrey Allen

    Anonymous 24 Nov at 11:02 pm