Just before packing for my first presentation in Europe, I chanced upon Amy Gahran's anti-PowerPoint treatise. It startled me, as I'd just put the finishing touches on what I considered a dazzling PowerPoint show for my continental debut.
But Gahran's right. PowerPoint presentations have no business being posted on Web sites. In many cases, PowerPoint presentations have no business in business.
Unfortunately, few people agree with me. In my field, the presenter is expected to show up with a laptop, dim the lights, fiddle with the LCD projector, and page through bulleted slide after bulleted slide. A presentation without PowerPoint is tantamount to being thoroughly unprepared. Albert Einstein would never have gotten by with scrawling E = MC2 on a chalkboard. Today, the professor would be expected to present his eloquent equation accompanied by swirling transitions and a multicolored template background.
The problem with PowerPoint is it's almost always bad. It's often used as cue cards for the speaker. In the worst cases, the speaker simply reads from those copy-dense bulleted lists during the presentation (and I'm betting those lists are inconsistently punctuated). We've all been in situations where the speaker begins to recite the words on the screen. Not only is it tortuous, it makes one question the purpose of attending the presentation. Wouldn't it have been easier to simply read that bulleted list in the comfort of one's own office?
Visually, PowerPoint can be a nightmare. Thanks to Microsoft, most speakers rely on busy templates, preset with unreadable reverse type and confusing patterns. Worse still are the campy cartoon graphics often pasted into the slides. I recently heard a Harvard professor speak. His talk was outstanding, but the clip-art-infested slides were incongruous with the brilliance of his presentation. One could only assume a busy student crafted the slides for extra credit.
I'm not a huge fan of those over-wrought transitions. The latest version of the software has dimming, swiveling, and zooming options that make my six year old squeal with delight. But that's my six year old. Those of us 20 and above know the tricks of the PowerPoint trade. Transitions no longer impress audiences. The same goes for prepackaged sound effects.
Adding your own music is a different story.
The best PowerPoint presentations should never be posted to a Web site because they have no context without the speaker's narration. That's why we go to meetings and watch presenters in the first place. We want to hear the speakers tell and have the visuals show us an interesting story.
For example, if you're presenting on Web content, you want to tell about your expertise. You want to show a fantastic Web site. The same is true if you present on what's new in video gaming. You want to tell about trends. You want to show (even play) the best parts of the game for your audience. Can you imagine using dry bullet points to present on video gaming? I hope not.
Consider the PowerPoint slide as a fresh roll of film stock. You're the director. Show us what you have in very dramatic ways. I've seen PowerPoint presentations that literally make the audience laugh and sigh. That's always because of a visual, never a bulleted list.
What happens when you've got a great presentation you want the world to see? How do you post it online?
Ditch the PowerPoint. It doesn't belong on your site. Post a summary of the speech's main points. Better yet, use the speech visuals in another format (here's where Flash may come in handy). Create a minifilm with narration. Remember, you're telling the story to an entirely new audience. You want to make a dazzling impression. Don't post a video of the speaker at the lectern, lights dimmed, and PowerPoint glowing in the dark.
That said, I'm reviewing my own presentation one more time. I'm removing the bullet points, keeping the text short, and pumping up the visuals. It should be a great success. But you won't see it posted on the Web. It doesn't belong there.
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Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.
March 19, 2014