Is PowerPoint the only way to present?

Julian Roche says replacing PowerPoint may not be the solution to good presentation. 

Famously, back in 2000 Peter Norvig put the Gettysburg address onto PowerPoint. Here, the famous concluding slide, is still worth looking at:

Eighteen years later, PowerPoint remains the dominant software for making presentations. Of course, there are many alternatives, some free, some with relatively minimal subscription fees. Visme for example provides integrated infographics, data visualizations, reports, product demos and animation. 

In a crowded field, much the same goes for Haiku Deck, Prezi, Project, Prezenit, Slides, Slidedog, Slidebean, Zoho Show, and Apple’s Keynote: all these encourage 3D, collaborative production, sharing, cloud-based storage, and mobile applications.

This kind of software is also aimed at embedding live tweets, YouTube videos and Flickr images. PowToon, for example, allows presentation using animated characters and to introduce yourself or your product using ‘story telling’ rather than ‘fact telling’. ​

Its USP is the ability to create short animated video clips from presentations and embed them into a website. The ability to record parallel soundtracks to presentations, so that they can be downloaded and viewed at leisure, is another important aspect of all this software, including PowerPoint itself.

The alternatives to PowerPoint are potentially worse, as they push the presenter ever further down a process of symbiosis with the software. 

But the real issue is not swapping PowerPoint for an alternative presentation software, however substantial the alleged benefits. Indeed, the alternatives to PowerPoint are potentially worse, as they push the presenter ever further down a process of symbiosis with the software.

For face-to-face financial training for example, including live webinars and even recorded webinars, the real question is whether there is any need for presentation software at all. For whichever presentation software is used, presenters are often tempted to use dozens of slides, attempting to put all, or at least most, of the information and explanation to be delivered on the screen.

The adverse consequences of this approach are many. First, it can easily block the opportunity for free debate around the subject and force a ‘run on rails’ presentation that creates artificial barriers between parts of the subject as a result of moving on to another slide.

Hence for example delegates may ask questions that relate to subsequent PowerPoint slides, resulting in an awkward choice between insisting on delaying the answer and scrolling down.

Second, there is the vexed question of whether PowerPoint slides should be printed out and made available to those being presented to – if they are, as is often the case, the presenter’s thunder is invariably stolen as delegates invariably leaf through all the slides before – or worse, during – the presentation itself.

Third, it can involve difficulties around any differences, or nuances of difference, between the explanation and what is on the screen.

One of the world’s most experienced finance trainers suggests this as a way round the problem that slides are often still expected, especially by an older generation brought up on PowerPoint: ‘For a day, no more than twelve simple bullet point slides. The purpose of PowerPoint is not to explain; it is so the presenter keeps track of what they have to say – time management’, he says.

An outline of the key points and files to be presented does the same job, though, freeing up the screen for other things: case studies, for example, relevant images such as formulae, where relevant, spreadsheets, URLs, videos, and other information drawn as required from the no-doubt extensive databank of the presenter.

As many younger delegates now recognise, the screen then becomes an adjunct to presentation, used when necessary and appropriately, rather than its focus.

Face-to-face presentation should not be about the software used, and certainly not about masses of slides: it is about conveying information in a memorable, and hence lively, way, hence the crucial importance of excellent presentation skills.

It is what is said that matters, not what is on the screen, as Norvig told us so forcefully way back: what we remember are great speeches, not great PowerPoint presentations.


About the author

Julian Roche is course director at Redcliffe Training 


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0 thoughts on “Is PowerPoint the only way to present?

  1. April 19, 2018 at 11:11 am

    PowerPoint Article by Julian
    I notice and was pleased that PowerPoint by Julian avoided the word learning but the article was in the Training Journal and for my sins I relate Training to learning. It is a bias I have but I will get over it.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the thought that PowerPoint is a valuable and often misused presentation tool. The question is, is it a sound tool for Learning? The question I must ask is, when are many Training Presenters going to become Learning Facilitators.
    PowerPoint is a great tool for presentations provided they are well designed, short, supported by the physical presence and voice use by the presenter and make key points for audience members memory.

    Oh dear, commitment to memory and learning are not quite the same things. Strongly related yes. PowerPoint is a good tool for some introductory learning elements, concluding elements but in between those comes the thinking, reviewing, discussing, doing, revision, etc, etc, related to learning. None of that was even blinked at. Training was mentioned and his quote was in relationship to finance. I only did two finance training courses and one dealt with the reality of business for idiots and the other was finance for non-financial managers and neither used PowerPoint but I did lots of thinking, and sums, forecasting, budgeting and, and.

    I was pleased he stuck to presentations and I fully agree with what he said within the limits of presentations.
    Quote: “But the real issue is not swapping PowerPoint for an alternative presentation software,…”
    Spot on, it is replacing much of it with Learning Facilitation in a L&D function.

    Will Julian follow up with the links to learning facilitation and how PowerPoint is over used and badly used within the learning environment. Yes, I have suffered on many occasions with “Death by PowerPoint” when I needed to learn something critical. Still that did create a drive for me to study and learn experientially.
    Oops, sorry, the dominance of PowerPoint presentations instead of helping learners learn hit one of my professional hates.

    Kind regards

    Barry Johnson BA, Chartered MCIPD, MCMI is a co-founder of Learning Partners. Formally European Director of Nortel Learning Institute.


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