Vaughan Gordon

Is PowerPoint Sounding The Death Knell For The Art of Presentation..?

By Vaughan Gordon

“Death by Powerpoint” is an expression you may well have heard.
Well, I speak from experience when I say that I have survived (only just) some of the most excruciating presentations, mainly because I sat too far away from the exit. How often have you sat through presentations, bored to tears because the presenter has broken some of the cardinal rules of presenting.
Not sure what I mean..?

  • There are too many slides.
  • The slides only have words. Lots of them.
  • It takes five wordy slides to make a point.
  • The presenter cannot connect with the audience.
  • The presenter reads every word on every slide.
  • The presenter does not know the slide order.
  • The presenter does not know how to use the remote controlled clicker.
  • There are too many “clever” custom animation builds. Oh, and sound effects.
  • Terrible image choices…the list goes on…

The whole experience should be enjoyable and, at the very least, informative. To be fair it’s not Powerpoint’s fault, it’s just the tool used to deliver the message. The problem usually lies with the presenter. Like any seasoned stand-up, you practice and adapt your material and presentation style to what works for your audience.

Moreover, having the ability to write your every thought on each slide can be seen as quite lazy, where presenters no longer feel the need to perform or connect because they can just read the slides. I recently read that any presentation has to connect with both sides of the brain, emotional and logical, and that your audience would have already judged whether or not they want to listen to you by slide two.









I have, however, been lucky enough to have witnessed some incredibly powerful performances, each of which have the same fundamental characteristics which clearly work. Seth Godin, in his e-booklet Really Bad PowerPoint and How To Avoid It*, highlights the key components to a really great presentation and the rules to live by when creating powerful, memorable slides:

Key Components:

  • Map out the key points before committing words to any slides. Know what you want to say and the order in which this should be presented.
  • Create cue cards to use as prompts and to ensure you actually say what you intended to in the first place (I find that Mind Maps work well too)
  • Make slides reinforce your words, not repeat them – demonstrating that what you’re saying is both true and accurate.
  • Create a leave-behind and tell the audience this at the beginning of the presentation. That way, you have their undivided attention throughout.

Five Rules For Memorable Slides:

  1. Keep the word count to six words per slide (Steve Jobs likes to use few words or a single image…)
  2. Use professional images that set the tone and make the point.
  3. Forget custom animation.
  4. If you’re going to use sound effects, do so sparingly using sounds and music from CDs and not from the programme.
  5. Create a leave behind but not print-outs of your slides, because you need to be there to present the detail.

Simple..? Not really.
Like anything it all takes patience, practice and a great deal of Dutch courage, but the key is knowing your subject in the first place. Some of the best presentations can be based on a single word or image. It’s what you say and how you say that really makes the difference.

*Source: Seth Godin – Really Bad PowerPoint (And How To Avoid It)


Vaughan Gordon, Director – VG&A