back to article Missing the PowerPoint of public speaking

The oxymoron "interesting PowerPoint presentation" was offered as a small witticism a few months back. I thought it was good, and shared it with a friend, who reacted angrily: "Blame the workman, not the tools," he said. Frankly, (I told him) I disagree. Powerpoint inherently ruins a presentation in 95 per cent of cases. We' …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Presentations where the speaker just drones and drones on, make my eyes glaze over, or where all they could add was 3 bullet points on the screen.

    More information on the screen keeps me interested as does a lively and informative speech.

    Pointless powerpoint presentations or empty ones always make me sleep.

    I don't know who these researchers deal with coming to their conclusions, probably the same people who need to look people in the face and cannot deal with emails, faxes or the telephone.

  2. Chris Matchett

    This is old

    And I said it was bullocks the first time. I watch lots of subtitled stuff - I find it easier. Yet there it is speech and text saying the same thing. That flies in the face of more so called scientific research - no doubt dreamt up in the student bar.

    Power point can still suck if done wrong but the less space given to these hippy anti-slide mouths the better.

  3. Kevin Hall

    Presentation tools are crap

    Having been a student and now work at a university, PowerPoint is truly horrible tool. Of course, it could be any tool like OpenOffice Impress or Lotus Freelance Graphics, but the net result is the same. People spend a lot of time designing not-very-interesting presentations that I find counter productive. People seem to do presentations because they have the tools to do them, not because they need to. I seem to recall one company, it might have been Sun or Oracle (I can't remember) banned the use of PowerPoint and told employees to use sheets of acetate and coloured markers instead. I think it's a classic case of a solution in need of a problem and that dismal slide shows should really only be used as means of last resort. To quote someone else, PowerPoint is a tool "for people to think and speak like fuckheads."

  4. Paul Bristow


    "I don't know how you'd set up a PowerPoint show that would allow that flexibility."

    1. Don't use PowerPoint, if at all possible. I use KeyNote where I can.

    2. Use the two screen speaker view, where you can see all of your slides and choose from them dynamically to suite the way the conversation/presentation is going. Typically I have around 200 slides available and use about 10.

    The other handy tip is to have slides as graphical as possible so you can tell whatever story you need around them. As long as they are related to the subject in some way, you're good to go.

  5. Andrew

    "Scientific Explanation"

    I recently completed a cogntive psychology experiment based upon exactly this argument, when does audiovisual presentation become more efficient than purely visual (or purely audio).

    There has been lots of research done on this, and the common theme is that for technical diagrams, where the audience need to view the stimuli. Imagine explaining the mechanics of a bleach bottle lid, it's a lot easier using a diagram and explaining than just explaining.

    The main concern I have with powerpoint slides (and impress slides for those OOo users on the site) is that if you stick with the default themes, it can get very boring very fast. They looked professional 5 years ago, and few people have updated them since then.

    There is also the point regarding what is written and what is said. My PowerPoint slides rarely have more than a sentence on information on them. Any more than that and you should be questioning why you need to give a presentation at all, if all the information is on the slides. Sometimes less is more.

  6. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Pay attention...

    *Subtitling* is very different to simultaneously presenting the same information in two formats... For example, unless you're slightly mad, you won't run English sub-titles and English audio on "stuff" unless you either can't understand or can't hear the English audio. When you have English sub-titles and non-English audio, you will typically pay attention to one or the other... yes, you will hear the audio but you won't be giving it your full attention. Note "typically" here, some people find it easier to do this than others - personally I can do it by by doing so I'm not effectively taking in the information presented - ask me what was said a few minutes later and I'd be hard pressed to tell you.

    As for whoever bravely and anonymously said "crap", and claims that you don't need to look people in the face... well, by making points like that you come over as the stereotypical back room techie who has the interpersonal skills of week old roadkill. The most successful business deals and relationships are not forged by e-mail and fax, but by face to face meetings. Meeting somebody face to face even once can drastically improve your subsequent dealings with this person by fax, e-mail or telephone - this isn't a coincidence.

  7. sam

    The power of science

    Chris, your singluar, personal experience does not necessariliy stand up as a refutation of a well performed scientific study. However, I haven't seen the research myself, so it's hard to say if it is any good.

    To offer my opinion, I'd say some of the best speakers I've seen are people who can hold the floor with no presentational aids whatsoever, except maybe a microphone. Also, If information is handed out afterwards, that's often better than trying to make notes during a talk.

    But I have seen good powerpoint presentations too. I think the main point is that the core of a good presentation is almost always to do with good speaking.

  8. Peter Mc Aulay

    What about subtitles then?

    "[I]t is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time."

    Prof. Sweller evidently doesn't live in a country where they subtitle foreign language films and TV programmes. Doesn't seem to cause any problems here!

  9. Sean Healey

    Information Overload

    Unusually I do agree with the results of the research in this case.

    Having someone talking to me and trying to read related text at the same time is like having to listen to two conversations at once. Result: I can't absorb a lot of the information given.

    Somehow I do find it a lot easier if displayed information is graphical - its as if my brain can parallel process it through a different channel to the spoken information or something.

  10. Ian Ward

    The off button

    I remember doing a presentation course many years ago, before I even owned a PC or knew powerpoint existed. One of the tools used was the OHP and the use of the Off switch was demonstrated - show your information, then by turning it off, bring attention back to the speaker.

    One of the problems with powerpoint type presentations is that too few people "turn it off" - ie. by including blank or black slides. Instead information is left on the screen not directly relevant to what is being said at that moment

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "W" Key is a presenters best friend

    Got to say, I wholeheartedly agree. I've seen good trainers, bad trainers, and mediocre ones for the last 30 years. So I know the style that works - not just for me, but by observing, for the vast majority of the other students. (Yep, it was acetate slides before ppt, but you get the drift).

    So, now I'm a trainer. Here's my take.

    I give the students paper copies of my slides, notes format, with the notes part blank. I reckoned as I train round the world, it's more useful for the students to write in their own language.

    Show a slide or two to introduce the point, hit the 'w' key (whitescreen) then get the students to 'animate' me on the whiteboard. I'm their inquisitor, advisor, friend and 'cursor'.

    I also might show 10-20%. The rest is an aide memoir.

    Consistently far better feedback since I've switched to doing that!

    (Sadly, like most, our managers 'expect' us to produce reams of slides. One measure of whether we're working or we do.)

    -Andy, Telecomms. trainer. (Hence, YMMV)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People don't read

    I sometimes include visual gags in my powerpoint slides. You can see the one or two people who are actually reading because their faces react when it appears. Everyone else is just zoned out listening to your voice.

    I think it's time to start doing powerpointless presentations to see the comparison.

  13. Matt Kemp

    Re: "What about subtitles then?"

    With subtitles, do you concentrate on the audio being spoken? The idea is you concentrate on the text, since the entire reason for having subtitles is the audio makes no sense.

    As for the mix of Powerpoint and speaking: As a student at one of our country's supposedly 'top' universities, I can inform you a surprising amount of lecturers use astoundingly boring lecture slides. One lecturer distributed copies of his slides at the beginning of a lecture, proceeded to read through them and display them all at the same time. Information overload kicks in, and looking around the lecture hall all I could see was bored faces.

    In comparison, easily the best lecturers I've had are ones that write down an explanation of what they're trying to impart on a blackboard. Copying what is written not only gives good notes to learn from later, but also the action of writing it down means you concentrate on it more than blankly looking at a screen.

  14. Jens Fallesen

    Annoying subtitles

    I live in a country of subtitles. I am thankful that we do not use dubbing, but I often enjoy the fact that on most channel, my STB allows me to disable the subtitling altogether.

    When watching a programme in English, I typically prefer to hear what people are saying, as many details get lost in the subtitles. However, it is very hard to force myself to ignore the subtitles, so I often end up both hearing and reading – often causing me to miss important points.

    Even when a programme in my own language is subtitled for the heard of hearing, it will often have the same effect.

    Coming back to PowerPoint, I typically find it hard to concentrate on both slides and the words of the speaker. And even though you may sometimes be better informed by reading the slides than listening to a bad speaker, this is most often not really the case: The slides will typically be written by the same bad speaker, and he is often not a good slide author (or editor) either …

  15. Chris Matchett


    I should have been more clear:

    I turn subtitles on for English programs. My fiancé does that because english is her 2nd language and I do it because I grew up with deaf parents. But I process the sound and vision together.

  16. Rob

    Dave Gorman

    For an excellent example of a powerpoint presentation that works well, watch Dave Gormans Googlewhack adventure. The presentation is used heavily to help him tell his story and is probably the most entertaining use of powerpoint (or whatever it was he used) i've ever seen.

    When the subject matter is interesting and the isage is right - they can be useful tools. It's just that often people are using them wrong.

This topic is closed for new posts.