PowerPoint. Why you’re still abusing audiences with it, and what to do about it

 In Entrepreneur, Learning from Luminaries, Message creation

The date was 20 April 1987.

That was the day Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin unearthed a monster – PowerPoint.

I’m sure Gaskins and Austin had no intention of  reeking havoc with their new software creation. They’re probably nice guys, and good on them for making $14 million when they sold PowerPoint to Microsoft.

Leaving aside all the pejorative statements about PowerPoint. For example, death by PowerPoint, why – why, are you still using PowerPoint, so ineffectively? (If you’re using the software well, apologies).

More importantly, what should you do about it?

Why are people still using PowerPoint, poorly?

The main reasons are:

  1. Expectation
  2. Habit and fear
  3. Laziness
  4. A Wharton University study.


Microsoft Pty Ltd has done such a superb job of marketing PowerPoint.

My view is that is has been THE marketing-sell job of the last 50 years. (Of the Presentation software market – PowerPoint has a 95% marketshare).

So much so, that whenever you hear the word ‘Presentation’, it’s code for a PowerPoint presentation.

Listening to a presentation, without PowerPoint slides, to most people –

is unimaginable.

Bosses are hypnotised by the ‘Presentation = use PowerPoint’ mantra. Their bosses are hypnotised, And their bosses’ bosses are hypnotised.

When  a company conference is upcoming, a boss can tell his/her report presenters, that they must make there presentation a certain length (eg. 30 minutes) and they need to use PowerPoint.

With these instructions – even though the reports don’t need 30 minutes to get their message across – they’ll pad the time with inane, undecipherable, unnecessary PowerPoint slides.

Check out this post which on what the best senior executives really want from your presentations.

Today the underlying mantra in the business world is:

‘If you doing a Presentation make sure you’re using PowerPoint’

and I won’t fire you,

even if PowerPoint makes your presentation boring, unclear etc.’

In effect, what everyone is doing is covering their backside. The collective thinking is ‘Play it safe. The big boss uses PowerPoint (yes, boringly). So I better use it even though I’m not sure I’m using it well.’


A habit is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.

The habit of presenters repeatedly using PowerPoint has been engrained for the last 30 years. People may know that there is a better way but the PowerPoint habit has conditioned them to not explore a better way.

The PowerPoint habit is so powerful that some people become speechless if they can’t click to the next slide. A number of years back I heard the story of an MD who banned the use of PowerPoint at the annual company conference. When the National Sales Manager opened the conference,

and didn’t have a slide to click to – he couldn’t speak.

Fear also underpins the use of PowerPoint. People who are fearful of presenting use PowerPoint to take the spotlight away from themselves. They deflect the audience’s attention and gaze, away from themselves to PowerPoint slides.

This deflection calms their fear. The audience doesn’t need to look at them. And they don’t need to look at the audience because they can join the audience in looking at the slide.

They are more concerned with themselves, with covering their fear with needless PowerPoint slides, versus confronting their fear and being more concerned with the audience through presenting clear messages to the audience.

With many presenters, at the start of their presentation, after greeting the audience, it’s almost as if they are saying,

‘Now I’d like to turn you over to my senior associate PowerPoint’


The third reason for the poor use of PowerPoint, is laziness.

You’ve probably experienced the following scenario.

A presenter has a standard PowerPoint deck of 30 or so slides for a 45 minutes presentation. When he/she is only given 20 minutes to present, rather than taking the time to delete slides, and construct slides appropriate for the shorter time frame, the person just speaks more quickly as he/she clicks through the 30 slides.


The Wharton study, often quoted as a defence of using PowerPoint, is dated and has been debunked by numerous sources.
In effect, the message from the 1981 Wharton study is that use of overhead transparencies will improve communication effectiveness, improve the audience’s perception of the presenter and improve presenter confidence.
The problem with this study is that it doesn’t apply to PowerPoint.
Use of PowerPoint is not more persuasive and its use can result in tragedy. A review of the 1986, Challenger Space Shuttle crash cited that use of PowerPoint contributed to the disaster, because it was a barrier to the effective flow of information.

Own the Conversation

So now that you know the problems of PowerPoint, what can you do about it?

#1 Overall, PowerPoint is best used for content that is not words. That is, images, simple graphs, infographics and charts. A short video clip (ie. around 40-80 seconds) can be a good complement to your speaking.

#2 Before including a slide ALWAYS ask the following questions:
– Will this slide help the audience better understand my key messages?
– Whose benefit is slide more for  – the audience or me?
– Will this slide improve audience attention, or make their eyes glaze over?
– Could I insert black slides between my content slides to better present the messages and control audience attention?
– Could I black certain slides and have a conversation – just like we’re sitting down having a cup of coffee?
(By the way, as some of you know in the PowerPoint, Slideshow mode, press ‘b’ to black a slide. Press ‘b’ again for the slide to reappear).

#3 Push back when your seniors tell you that you have to use PowerPoint. You might say, ‘Boss, all I need to get my message across is 10 minutes. This will save time and keep the audience interested. I only need PowerPoint for two images’.

Luminary Pitch advisor Oren Klaff recommends the following guidelines for slides:
– Have no more than two product slides.
– Omit anything that looks like a Pie chart, Regression analysis, Venn diagram, Stacked area chart or other ‘Data visualization’ image.
– Omit stock photography.

p.s. Check out what Steve Jobs had to say about PowerPoint

p.p.s. Here is another post to check out Why not to hand out your slides before your presentation

#You might want to trial my Confident Personal Communication video learning programme because it will give you practical techniques to ‘Own the Conversation’.

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