We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? The archetypal “slave to the PowerPoint.” Eyes glued to the screen. Reciting bullet point text in monotone, as listeners’ eyes grow glassy.
PowerPoint slides function like a stack of note cards—but broadcasted to an audience, rather than held to your chest. In theory, they buoy the presentation, pair visuals with your points, and allow the audience to seamlessly follow along. While PowerPoints serve a sound purpose, they too often devolve into a nervous speaker’s crutch, bogging down the very presentation they were supposed to strengthen. In fact, many speakers would do well to trash the powerpoint they slaved over, or at least distill it to its most important images, graphs, and points. Just take a note from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who instituted a company-wide ban on PowerPoints at executive meetings. They were rated no more compelling than verbal presentations with no visual aids, Forbes reports. On behalf of Microsoft and all PowerPoint enthusiasts, I say, yikes. With more than 30 million PowerPoints projected per day, it’s time to investigate the real-world efficacy of this veteran software.
Here are the top four reasons to ditch PowerPoints:
They’re damaging your brand perception
According to research by Harvard University, presentations have the power to “influence participants’ core judgments about a business decision.” That being said, PowerPoints were specifically found to hurt brand perception. And they may stand alone in that derision; presenters who used Prezi (a more dynamic presentation software that zooms and pans over content) were rated as “more knowledgeable and professional” than their PowerPoint-clicking counterparts.
They divide the audience’s attention
PowerPoints force the audience to split their attention between you and the screen. This dramatically decreases engagement, increasing the odds that your message may be lost in translation. They blatantly offer listeners something to focus on other than you and your core message. This is counterintuitive to your goals as a speaker. In order to “build celebrity,” elevate credibility and drive sales, you need to position yourself as the dead center of attention. In essence, don’t share the stage with a screen.
You appear more ‘instructor’ than ‘leader’
Those who use PowerPoints are typically seen as having something to “teach.” Not that you should evade that perception entirely—you do have something to teach, which is why you’ve taken the stage—but PowerPoints inherently saddle you with the image of ‘an instructor,’ as opposed to that of ‘a leader.’ You don’t want your audience to feel like they’re listening to a dry mathematic lecture. You want them to feel thrilled, engaged, and beholden to your every word. You want to project the magnetism of a leader, and compel audience members to line up to speak with you when all is said and done. If forced to choose between seeming like a leader or an instructor, opt for a leader, who can convey their arguments with clarity and conviction alone. No PowerPoint necessary.
They hinder relationship-building with your audience
If there is only one thing you take away from this read, let this be it. PowerPoints are inherently limited to presenting text, graphs, images and other objectively factual information. You, by contrast, are capable of conveying emotion, telling stories, and engaging with your audience at an emotional level. To forge an authentic relationship with your audience—one that you could leverage for new business relationships—you need to connect on a human level, tap into their imaginations, and light up their minds. It’s much harder to appeal to their emotions or build a meaningful relationship when you are asking them to build it, first and foremost, with a screen, rather than with you.
Forbes described PowerPoint as the “much maligned and misused presentation platform.” When polled, audiences have derided the unimaginative nature of slugging through slides. So don’t contribute to the collective PowerPoint fatigue. Use slides sparingly. Bring in anecdotes. Pepper your speech with questions for the audience to field. If you’re unsure whether to keep a slide or scrap it, ask yourself: Is there anything on this slide that cannot be creatively explained in my speech? If the answer is no, then delete away.
As it turns out, the single most effective speeches have been made in the absence of slideshows. It would be a bit difficult to imagine Martin Luther King Jr. using a laserpoint to underline the words “I have a dream…” in Arial font on a projector. No matter your field, the subtraction of a PowerPoint lends itself to new challenges, forcing you to think of alternative and imaginative ways to communicate your point. What you lose in slide content, compensate in punishing verbal clarity. Whether that means more effectively articulating your points, drawing on an anecdote, or engaging the audience directly, take a stab at reciting your speech in the intrepid absence of a PowerPoint.