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“Why do you hate PowerPoint?”

Actually, PowerPoint can be a very helpful tool.  What I hate is when people consider PowerPoint to be their presentation.  This was the point I was trying to make in a recent all-day facilitator skills training session that I intentionally designed without using a single PowerPoint slide.  At the end of the day, a participant raised her hand and said:

“PowerPoint brings a degree of technology to the training room and it also offers a more professional look than flipcharts.  I don’t have the time or the artistic ability to draw attractive visual aids that adorn the classroom.  And PowerPoint is the only way to go when it comes to webinars.  So, Brian, why do you hate PowerPoint so much?”

As proof that I don’t hate PowerPoint, at the end of this article I will offer three reasons why PowerPoint should be used by trainers and facilitators.  First, let me offer the top three ways I’ve observed PowerPoint being mis-used, even abused, by many presenters.

Top 3 PowerPoint Abuses:

  1. PowerPoint becomes the presentation.  This is perhaps the most common abuse.  I also find this to be the most disrespectful gesture a presenter can make toward audience members and learners.  In this abuse, everything a presenter has to say (statistics, key points, data) is squeezed into a series of slides.  The presenter reads the slides to the audience.  Sometimes, in an effort to lay a claim to “interactivity”, the presenter then asks if there are any questions before concluding the presentation.  While a presenter may spend considerable time preparing a slide deck, this method is really all about the presenter and what he knows.  There is no way to tell whether or not the audience will actually take anything away from this type of presentation.
  2. Clicking past important information.  This is an extension of Abuse #1 and occurs when a presenter assumes that because something (statistics, data, key points) was displayed on a slide people will remember it.  The fact is that once a new slide is displayed on the projection screen, the old information from the previous slide is gone and generally forgotten.  Handouts can help mitigate this.  Flipcharts or posters around the room can help ensure important information will be displayed throughout the duration of the presentation.
  3. Standard templates and clipart. When PowerPoint first came out, it was novel and interesting.  Now too many presentations look the same.  And not in a good way.  Some effort and creativity in designing the slides can really help to hold the audience’s attention.  Click here for an example of a stellar PowerPoint presentation.  Click here to see how one of the most powerful speeches in American history (The Gettysburg Address) could have been rendered completely forgettable if Abraham Lincoln had relied on PowerPoint (and its standard templates and features).

All this having been said, here are the top 3 reasons PowerPoint should continue to be used in presentations:

  1. As a co-facilitator.  Maverick had Goose.  Abbott had Costello.  And if you’re presenting on your own, your wingman can be PowerPoint.  If you don’t have time for audience questions (or if you have a quiet audience who won’t ask questions), you can insert a well-timed slide posing a question for you to answer and turn the presentation into an interaction between you and the projection screen.  I’ve also seen what could have been very dry presentations (and presenters) engage their audience through unexpected (and often humorous) images or text at well-placed points in a presentation.
  2. Respecting the visual learners.  If you’re a presenter, you are probably aware of the various ways learners process information (auditory, visual, kinesthetic).  PowerPoint can help your audience process information through images and screen shots.  The visual cues you embed into the PowerPoint presentation is also a facilitator tool to keep everyone on the same page of the topic at hand.
  3. Use of advanced features. Some facilitators use games to review information and check if their learners have “gotten it”.  There are a number of game templates available through PowerPoint.  Recently, I combined screen shots with hyperlinks and action buttons to demonstrate a new elearning program I was rolling out to an audience when I didn’t have a reliable internet connection in the meeting room.  Hyperlinks and action buttons are also ways to encourage audience interaction and to make a PowerPoint presentation more dynamic compared to more traditional, linear PowerPoint presentations.

I don’t hate PowerPoint.  But I do think some additional planning, preparation and creativity can transform a sleep-inducing presentation into an amazing learning experience for both the audience and the presenter.

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