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PPT = All Wrong?

Nov - 6 - 2007
Nicole C. Engard

We’ve all heard the complaints about presentations based on PowerPoint (or other similar slide show product) – but my question is – what is the alternative? I like to start my presentations with some slides – mostly for reference and note-taking (if printed), but then move on to a live demo of sorts. The way I see it though – not all talks have a “live demo” approach – so what do these people do?

I’ve been attending a lot of events lately and at one of them (nope I won’t tell you which) one of the speakers didn’t use PowerPoint (she did have visual aids of a sort though) and she read her entire talk from a script. Is this the type of presentation you want to attend? I couldn’t pay attention for the life of me!! I wanted to – I really really did – the topic seemed interesting – but I could not pay attention with her voice droning on as she read from her script and swapped her transparency for the next … oops … gave you a hint.

So – what’s the third option? If not PowerPoint and if not a scripted talk then what do people without live demos do?

I’m really just curious what the “PPT = All Wrong” people want when they go to a presentation – what would make it educational and enjoyable?

For me, I’m okay with the PPT as long as the speaker is speaking to me. I’m okay with it as long as it’s supplemental to the talk itself. My problem comes after the fact – after the presentation – if you want to share what you learned with others – you had better have taken real notes – because without the speaker’s words, a PPT with several slides of bullet points isn’t usually going to cut it.

I’ve sort of gotten off track here – but I needed a little rant and this seemed like a good topic for today. Feel free weigh in.

26 Responses so far.

  1. The third option: Have something worthwhile to say, and say it–talking to people, not reading from a script. (Notes, yes. Script, no.)

    That’s how I’ve done 95% of my speeches over the years. (The other 5% actually needed something visual to work.)

    Actually, though, I think I agree with your penultimate paragraph. The problem with PPT is usually that people use it as a way to avoid actually speaking to people–they speak to their PPT presentations instead. But that’s not always the case.

    And, of course, people with Hot PPT Skillz are doing loads of speaking and I’m basically off the circuit–so what do I know?

  2. August says:

    PPT destroys the setting. We have developed to receive certain information in certain ways, and the speech is reminiscent of the story-teller. I can cram in much more information in an hour if I just read it, but there is a real benefit to seeing and hearing someone talk it through. Even if the delivery is extremely dry, the audience still gets to see how the speaker puts the story together.

    PPT is a screen, and people usually put way to many words on that screen. We immediately read all of the words, then the speaker usually says the words aloud. This tricks us into believing we already know everything that he or she is saying. The audience feels like it is just waiting for the speaker to catch up.

    The speaker should set the pace. Text on the screen is not good at all. Sometimes pictures, graphs, and other visual aids are helpful, but the use of such thing should be weighed against the flow of the speech. If the speaker is speaking about a subject and has to start talking about a picture or a graph, the pace of the speech has changed. It’s not a terrible thing, but if you don’t pay attention to how many stops you are taking, you’ll never get to where you want to go to in the end. (I am talking mainly about audience comprehension here.)

  3. The speaker should set the pace, says the above comment. I agree. If a presenter uses PPT wisely, he/she will use the feature that enables text to show up when the presenter wants it. So, no slides will show up with a ton of text at the beginning. Again, we get back to wise use.

    Above all, make sure to speak to the audience and make your presentation interactive on as many occasions as you can. Make folks laugh every few minutes, just to make sure they are paying attention.

  4. The third option: Have something worthwhile to say, and say it–talking to people, not reading from a script. (Notes, yes. Script, no.)

    That’s how I’ve done 95% of my speeches over the years. (The other 5% actually needed something visual to work.)

    Actually, though, I think I agree with your penultimate paragraph. The problem with PPT is usually that people use it as a way to avoid actually speaking to people–they speak to their PPT presentations instead. But that’s not always the case.

    And, of course, people with Hot PPT Skillz are doing loads of speaking and I’m basically off the circuit–so what do I know?

  5. August says:

    PPT destroys the setting. We have developed to receive certain information in certain ways, and the speech is reminiscent of the story-teller. I can cram in much more information in an hour if I just read it, but there is a real benefit to seeing and hearing someone talk it through. Even if the delivery is extremely dry, the audience still gets to see how the speaker puts the story together.

    PPT is a screen, and people usually put way to many words on that screen. We immediately read all of the words, then the speaker usually says the words aloud. This tricks us into believing we already know everything that he or she is saying. The audience feels like it is just waiting for the speaker to catch up.

    The speaker should set the pace. Text on the screen is not good at all. Sometimes pictures, graphs, and other visual aids are helpful, but the use of such thing should be weighed against the flow of the speech. If the speaker is speaking about a subject and has to start talking about a picture or a graph, the pace of the speech has changed. It’s not a terrible thing, but if you don’t pay attention to how many stops you are taking, you’ll never get to where you want to go to in the end. (I am talking mainly about audience comprehension here.)

  6. The speaker should set the pace, says the above comment. I agree. If a presenter uses PPT wisely, he/she will use the feature that enables text to show up when the presenter wants it. So, no slides will show up with a ton of text at the beginning. Again, we get back to wise use.

    Above all, make sure to speak to the audience and make your presentation interactive on as many occasions as you can. Make folks laugh every few minutes, just to make sure they are paying attention.

  7. decasm says:

    For most people, PPT and it’s ilk are a crutch. They spare the speaker the burden of being the real focus of the audience’s attention. They concentrate on the wall, and only occasionally look over to the speaker/slide reader. Far too few people become accustomed to, to say nothing of skilled at, public speaking, and PPT allows unskilled speakers to muddle through a presentation. There are also people who just don’t know any better. PPT is de rigueur in many contexts, so they just dump all their information into slides.

    Of course, the technology in-and-of itself isn’t bad. There are plenty of people who know that the slides are a secondary tool that reinforces and enhances what they’re saying, and not a substitution for actually having something to say.

    For amusement, The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation

  8. Nicole says:

    Cool – I started a good conversation. So the gist is – we can use PPT, just use it wisely. This is going to lead to another rant of mine – I also do not like slides with a ton of text on them – but sometimes use them for people who will be reading the presentation without me speaking at a later date … how do make our presentations valuable to those who can’t be at the event? Or should be even have to?

  9. decasm says:

    For most people, PPT and it’s ilk are a crutch. They spare the speaker the burden of being the real focus of the audience’s attention. They concentrate on the wall, and only occasionally look over to the speaker/slide reader. Far too few people become accustomed to, to say nothing of skilled at, public speaking, and PPT allows unskilled speakers to muddle through a presentation. There are also people who just don’t know any better. PPT is de rigueur in many contexts, so they just dump all their information into slides.

    Of course, the technology in-and-of itself isn’t bad. There are plenty of people who know that the slides are a secondary tool that reinforces and enhances what they’re saying, and not a substitution for actually having something to say.

    For amusement, The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation

  10. Jason says:

    The best Powerpoint presentations I’ve seen have supported the presentation with a sort of “Chapter Heading” and an illustrative image of some sort, and nothing else. Keeps the audience focused on what the speaker’s talking about, but doesn’t substitute for listening.

    Nicole, PPT does have that notes feature if you want something you can print out or post for people to read afterwards. That’s the way I’d go.

  11. Nicole says:

    Cool – I started a good conversation. So the gist is – we can use PPT, just use it wisely. This is going to lead to another rant of mine – I also do not like slides with a ton of text on them – but sometimes use them for people who will be reading the presentation without me speaking at a later date … how do make our presentations valuable to those who can’t be at the event? Or should be even have to?

  12. Jason says:

    The best Powerpoint presentations I’ve seen have supported the presentation with a sort of “Chapter Heading” and an illustrative image of some sort, and nothing else. Keeps the audience focused on what the speaker’s talking about, but doesn’t substitute for listening.

    Nicole, PPT does have that notes feature if you want something you can print out or post for people to read afterwards. That’s the way I’d go.

  13. Nicole says:

    I use that all of the time – but not everyone does.

  14. Jonathan says:

    I look at it this way: when you present you are multi-casting – you are delivering information to a group of people simultaneously. To some of the people, your voice is enough, others need to see your face or your body language too (big reason not to use podiums BTW :) while still others like to see the image on the screen via PPT as well.

    There is no right or wrong way IMHO – there is your message and the audience – the trick is to use any and every technique to connect these two. The choice of techniques has as much to do with the audience as it does with you the presenter.

    hope this is helpful
    Jonathan

  15. Nicole says:

    I use that all of the time – but not everyone does.

  16. Jonathan says:

    I look at it this way: when you present you are multi-casting – you are delivering information to a group of people simultaneously. To some of the people, your voice is enough, others need to see your face or your body language too (big reason not to use podiums BTW :) while still others like to see the image on the screen via PPT as well.

    There is no right or wrong way IMHO – there is your message and the audience – the trick is to use any and every technique to connect these two. The choice of techniques has as much to do with the audience as it does with you the presenter.

    hope this is helpful
    Jonathan

  17. joan says:

    I haven’t been to many good job talks that didn’t include a PPT presentation. The thing isn’t to avoid PPT, but to use it well. Just because people use a tool poorly doesn’t mean mean it’s a poor tool.

    The blog Presentation Zen has great ideas on good uses of PPT:
    http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/

  18. joan says:

    I haven’t been to many good job talks that didn’t include a PPT presentation. The thing isn’t to avoid PPT, but to use it well. Just because people use a tool poorly doesn’t mean mean it’s a poor tool.

    The blog Presentation Zen has great ideas on good uses of PPT:
    http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/

  19. Nicole: I avoid PPT whenever possible because it distracts more than it aids (I do like the point made in #6 above, though). My preference is to talk directly to the audience from notes, give a detailed handout, and bring GIF or JPEG files for any necessary images.

  20. Nicole: I avoid PPT whenever possible because it distracts more than it aids (I do like the point made in #6 above, though). My preference is to talk directly to the audience from notes, give a detailed handout, and bring GIF or JPEG files for any necessary images.

  21. Yomiko Readman says:

    I remember when the anti-PPT camp first gained ground. Edward Tufte’s thoughts on elegant and effective presentation of data were a big part of the discussion. His seminars are rather expensive, but I’ve been told you get most of the same points covered in his books, which are beautifully produced:

    http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_vdqi

  22. Yomiko Readman says:

    I remember when the anti-PPT camp first gained ground. Edward Tufte’s thoughts on elegant and effective presentation of data were a big part of the discussion. His seminars are rather expensive, but I’ve been told you get most of the same points covered in his books, which are beautifully produced:

    http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_vdqi

  23. Yomiko says:

    BTW, Tufte has a number of message threads on his website re: PPT, e.g.

    http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch

    There are also more humorous presentations of the downside of Powerpoint (presumably by avoiding common mistakes you end up with something at least moderately effective):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLpjrHzgSRM

  24. Yomiko says:

    BTW, Tufte has a number of message threads on his website re: PPT, e.g.

    http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0002PP

    There are also more humorous presentations of the downside of Powerpoint (presumably by avoiding common mistakes you end up with something at least moderately effective):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLpjrHzgSRM

  25. RaginCajun says:

    This fall I attended a presentation on using Flash in library websites. Rather than using a typical Powerpoint presentation, the person made a presentation using Flash. It was dynamic and engaging.

  26. RaginCajun says:

    This fall I attended a presentation on using Flash in library websites. Rather than using a typical Powerpoint presentation, the person made a presentation using Flash. It was dynamic and engaging.


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