Why I Hate PowerPoint and You Probably Do Too

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Why I Hate PowerPoint and You Probably Do Too

 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to the New Enterprises class (15.390A) at MIT and talk about startup funding. On my first PowerPoint slide, my second bullet-point was (literally): "I Hate PowerPoint".

Don't get me wrong. I think PowerPoint, the software tool, is just fine. In fact, I have a fair amount of respect for the programmers that built it. It's a powerful application. What I hate about PowerPoint (and I guess, presentation apps more generally) is what it does to me during my preparation as a speaker. For some reason, as soon as I start creating slides for a presentation, my passion slowly dies. Despite all my readings on PowerPoint best practices from the likes of Steve Jobs and Guy Kawasaki, and my best efforts to keep things simple and powerful, I invariably get reduced to this neurotic shell of my usually practical and passionate self and resort to that horror of all horrors -- the bullet point. Then, it's all down-hill from there.

For the MIT event, I had actually decided not to create a PowerPoint deck. After all, there's no rule anywhere that says you have to have slides to present at MIT. Things were just hunky-dory (the first time I've ever used that phrase in writing) until a few hours before my scheduled talk. Then, Brian Halligan (my co-founder at HubSpot) casually says: "So, let's check out your slides for the MIT talk". Curses! I tell him, "I don't have slides. I'm just going to talk." To his credit, he didn't give me a hard time about it (we've had conversations about my hatred for PowerPoint before). Then he went to lunch and I was left questioning my decision. After a little while, I thought, "ok, maybe a few slides can't hurt...will keep me organized...". I start PowerPoint. Curses!

To be fair, once I'm actually speaking, PowerPoint is not that bad and I've gotten pretty good at having it not get in the way. I spent the 10 years of my early entrepreneurial career doing a fair amount of public speaking and spent most that time avoiding PowerPoint entirely. Oh, those halcyon days...

So, back to the MIT talk. The talk itself went great and I just had gotten over my anger at PowerPoint today when I came across an article by Jeff Nolan titled "PowerPoint And The Spoken Word". I agreed whole-heartedly with the premise of the article, and loved this particular sound-bite: "The art of business communication is not forever lost, but it has quite often never been acquired largely because we have confused the medium with the message."

So, why do I hate PowerPoint? Because even though I know better, it's just too easy to get lazy, resort to bullet-points and create slides for the worst possible reason to create slides: Because you think you have to. That, and I'm really doubtful that anyone in my audience (or yours) has thought this in the first 5 seconds of a presentation: "He's got a PowerPoint deck. Yah! Woo hoo!".

If I hate the talent and resources of Steve Jobs, I'd be able to create slides just fine. But I don't (have the talent) and don't (have the resources) so I don't like to create slides.

Hate PowerPoint because you love your audience.

 

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Tue, Apr 08, 2008

COMMENTS

"If I hate the talent and resources of Steve Jobs, I'd be able to create slides just fine."
Yes, because all the best PP presentations are fuelled by hate :)

posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 1:35 AM by ColinM


Your audience will have folks who process written information or charts/graphs or pictures more effectively than the spoken word. Having slides gives you the ability to use more potentially viable input media to get your message across. In my own case, having slides allows me to practice, refine, and improve my presentation. Unless you know your subject really well and are in front of a patient audience, a strategy of "I'm just going to talk" may leave your audience adrift. The smaller the audience and the more interactive you can make it, the less you are at risk for this. If there were more than a dozen in the class I think you were wise to bring slides.

posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 2:46 AM by Sean Murphy


I wrestle with "putting" what to put into a slide deck, when I should be focused on what I am trying to communicate. It's the mechanics that interfere with the communication. My new approach is just clean piece of paper to gather my thoughts and then create organized slides.

posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 10:44 AM by TJGodel


I felt just like you, and then discovered (through the Guy Kawasaky blog) a "mind-changing" book by Garr Reynolds: presentation zen.
I've just delivered two presentations since I read the book just two weeks ago, and I've not fully applied all the principles, but the result is amazingly great!
I don't say that my new presentations are great in a global sense, but they are great when compared to my previous (not-so-bad) 1-7-7 ones.
People feel far more comfortable (and less bored) you can tell by their faces, but you, the presenter feel actually a lot better, more free to speak.
So, I would actually say that "I hate bullet point presentations". :-)

posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 10:50 AM by Narciso Cerezo


Let's take Powerpoint for what it is: a critical tool used to get your point across. We've all seen the worst: 60 slides in 30 minutes, too many bullets, too many graphics and most of us, at some point in time, just delete it all and go back to 10 - 12 slides with no more than 3 bullets each. The brain can't handle much more in an hour anyway. We all know folks just need a little organization, in this case, the presenter and the audience.
I would like to suggest a modest change: When starting developing any presentation, hate powerpoint so that your audience will love you!

posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 11:02 AM by John Stack


Most presentators misuse slides - assuming the audience wants to read (or worse read to) instead of listen and be entertained. Minimal words and compelling images is all one needs but as others have said people - often CEO - don't get it. The details should only be in the speaker's notes, which can be easily distributed to the audience later as document.
For an easy way to build better slides check out Flypaper Studio. http://www.demo.com/community/?q=node/33226
Mary

posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 11:37 AM by Mary Fallon


As an entrepreneur, the passion for our idea is why we are here. The worst part of raising money is not being in front of the person who is flipping through your deck to paint the picture of the power of the idea. It's frustrating. My approach is to add video in addition to the powerpoint to humanize and personalize the message and communicate the passion. 10-12 slides is the max.

posted on Wednesday, April 09, 2008 at 1:20 PM by Jenna Raby


Dharmesh, what I think you MEANT to say was that you hate the typical PowerPoint presentation. :-)
You are just the most recent in a long line of PowerPoint bashers. Perhaps you have seen the famous article by Edward Tufte in a 2003 issue of Wired: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html.
In truth, there's nothing wrong with PowerPoint as a graphics software package. The problem is with putting tools in the hands of people who don't know how to use them. Like the <blink> tag in HTML and typing ALL CAPS IN EMAIL MESSAGES, there are many stylistic options that should hardly ever be used. But many practitioners don't know that. They don't know how to choose the right media to get across the message.
Regarding your dilemma of bringing slides to class: The proper question is "What class format will best teach my students what I want to teach them?" As a teacher, you have more important things to think about than a decision about PowerPoint per se. Were you giving a lecture to 150 students, packed with a one-way dump of your insights and little chance for clarifying dialogue? Or were you holding a small "master class" discussion with grad students, where the discussion was meant to be of more value than the material you brought into class? Did you want to provide students with a hard-copy take-away of your points, or were you expecting them to absorb, process, and record their own impressions? Was your content a series of anecdotal case studies or a formal outline of entrepreneurial principles? You get the idea.
Once you get the audience and purpose decided, then it's time to choose production tools.
For myself, I use PowerPoint very differently depending on these preparatory decisions. But in any case, I NEVER, NEVER just read the slide material. That's as dumb as the professor who writes his own lecture word by word on the board. (I've had that sort of professor, but thankfully not often.)
One interesting use of PowerPoint was taught to me by a mentor/boss at Intel a few years ago named Jordan Snyder. When he was presenting recommendations to a group of senior executives, he would put a summary of the entire analysis and its conclusions on one sparsely filled slide. That slide would be filled with hyperlinks to backup material for each important finding or recommendation. These in turn had more hyperlinks. This allowed Jordan to make a clear statement up front of his findings a recommendations, and then jump freely through his prepared material as the execs asked probing questions.
So don't kill the messenger (or in this case, the tool). Advocate for more thoughtful presenting!
PS: The hotlink from your RSS feed is broken for this post. I had to get here by backing out of a different post.

posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 9:40 AM by Carl Strathmeyer


For those wanting to pursue the question further:
1. A humorous look at how Abraham Lincoln might have used PowerPoint at Gettysburg:
http://www.norvig.com/Gettysburg/index.htm
2. And a deadly serious essay by Edward Tufte about how PowerPoint was used (or misused) at NASA as they were trying to make mid-flight decisions about the space shuttle Columbia (which in the end burned up and killed its crew, in part because the data presentation was not clear to decision makers).
http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1&topic=Ask+E%2eT%2e

posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 9:54 AM by Carl Strathmeyer


I too ran out and bought the book Presentation Zen - and my lectures and presentations are much better for it.
Seth Godin had a great post the other day - about using the advanced search feature of Flickr.com to find Creative Commons licensed images.
For those you haven't read the book - the idea is that there are three crucial elements - the visual on the slide - designed to enhance what you are saying, bring about an emotional response, or emphasize one key thought. The second is what you say, and the third is a hand out with all the detail crap that you used to put on your slides.
Great post, Dharmesh - I have to get you to Minnesota one of these days to present at my class.

posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 11:25 AM by Mike Nolan


Bullets for the deaf?
If you love your topic, and want to bring the full flurry of your energy into a presentation why make any bullet points? Reading is slow and readers usually block out listening to a speaker.
Instead why not just make a handful of slides that intrigue YOU, and cue YOU for your presentation. Then as you are explaining how this picture reminds you of the "topic" people can listen to your words and drift throughout the details of the images portrayed.
Reading along is bullet bore... the slides don't need to repeat your presentation x if you feel drained and like your slides are putting your creativity into a slump imagine how your audience feels, hehe.

posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 4:33 PM by Clinton


I dunno, I am a recent (24 hours or so) convert to the PowerPoint deck. That's after spending years proclaiming its inherent evil. I am a lover of language and stories, I LOATHED being confined. I lost my passion..... BUT, when a very seasoned and successful entrepreneur sat me down and got my pitch into 9 slides with very few words on them, I realized very important things. 1) it was an outline for me, meant that even though I would embellish with passion, I stayed on course. I could stop trying to remember what to say and was much freer to express ideas verbally. 2) even the ADHD visual learners in the crowd could follow along. 3) Made me learn my stuff inside and out. I can now do the WHOLE biz plan in the elevator, not just the concept. So, I know look at it as a good exercise. And kinda love it. Conicidentally, I posted the 9 slide outline on my blog today - i found it that helpful. http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/startherup/archives/136269.asp

posted on Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 11:46 PM by Alyssa Royse


Alex: Having been on the fund-raising circuit recently, I agree that VCs don't read business plans.
However, I think that any PowerPoint presentation that can stand-alone (i.e. be understood without the presenter), is likely too complicated.

posted on Sunday, April 13, 2008 at 3:53 PM by


The exchange between Alex and Dharmesh is a good example of my earlier point. You could communicate a business plan in many ways:
(a) In traditional prose for later reading
(b) In hypertext for later reading
(c) In "picture book" format for later reading
(d) In face-to-face verbal presentation to a group
(e) In face-to-face conversation with an individual
etc.
I would prepare very different supporting materials for each of these venues, even if the content were the same. That should be self-evident. (If it isn't, go take a class on effective communication.)
I might use PowerPoint as my production tool for a few of these, but I would use it in VERY different ways (for example, at venues b, c and d.)
We're all talking as if spray paint was the cause of graffiti! So let's stop bashing PowerPoint when the problem is really one of basic communication skills! :-)

posted on Monday, April 14, 2008 at 9:36 AM by Carl Strathmeyer


Carl: You're right. PowerPoint is not the problem. Lack of communication skills is indeed the problem.

posted on Monday, April 14, 2008 at 12:03 PM by


This is pretty fun:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLpjrHzgSRM&eurl=http://whyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2008/04/have-you-watched-presentation-with-bad.html

posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 1:52 PM by henry cate


i have 2 chedon

posted on Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 1:20 PM by susie


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