My PowerPoint New Year’s Resolutions

In reviewing the past year, I realize I’ve frittered away too much time looking at boring, useless PowerPoint presentations. I’ll never get those hours back.

Fewer PowerPoints would make this a better world.

A presenter and an audience should have real, authentic conversations. Such conversations almost never involve a PowerPoint presentation.

PowerPoint presentations might be helpful when someone is sharing graphs, pictures or other visual content. Too often, though, PowerPoint slides are overcrowded with text that stifle communications, especially when the presenter reads aloud—word-for-word—the endless prose projected onto the screen.

I believe fewer PowerPoints would make this world a better place in which to live, to learn and to work. Do you agree?

Towards that end, I hereby resolve that during the coming New Year I will become a better communicator by minimizing or even eliminating the boring PowerPoints that threaten to clutter my life. Are you with me? Will you join me in this important revolution? Here’s what I commit to do.

When I’m presenting, I resolve to:

  1. Use PowerPoint only when it is the best option for communicating. Contrary to popular opinion, not every workshop or training session requires a PowerPoint. When I’m in front of an audience, I’d much rather talk with people rather than at them. I want to create an atmosphere where we have an authentic conversation. Yet I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a real conversation that included a PowerPoint presentation.
  2. Never create a PowerPoint using bullet points. Okay, there’s a slight chance I’ll break this resolution if I’m trying to explain a hierarchy of ideas. Wouldn’t it be better, though, to create a separate slide for each bullet point? That would make things cleaner and would also keep the slides moving faster.
  3. Never use complete sentences on a PowerPoint slide. If the audience needs the exact wording of something for future reference, I can provide that in a handout. Otherwise, a couple of keywords or images on the screen will be enough to focus our attention and prompt me to say—in my own words—whatever idea I’m trying convey.
  4. Talk facing the audience. My speaker’s notes, when needed, will always be in front of me, not displayed behind me on the screen. I never want to turn my back to the audience and read from the slide. Never!
  5. Remake boring PowerPoints provided to me. When I’m leading a training session, I will cover everything in the curriculum. However, I believe PowerPoint should be an incidental part of a good, worthwhile workshop. When a PowerPoint is necessary, I will likely create my own slides to complement my presentation style. Be assured, though, that I will always look for opportunities to break the cycle of PowerPoint punishment.

When I’m in the audience, I resolve to:

  1. Give honest feedback. I will mark down on the speaker’s evaluation anyone lame enough to read word-for-word what’s written on a clunky PowerPoint slide. I am in the audience to hear someone talk, not to hear him or her read something I’m capable of doing on my own.
  2. Encourage excellence. Recently I attended a day-long workshop led by an employee of the federal government. She was an incredibly effective presenter—despite having to use a PowerPoint undoubtedly created by some boring bureaucrat who earned a commission on the number of words he could fit onto each slide. At the morning break, I went up and commended the woman on her ability to communicate so effectively while standing beside such a boring PowerPoint screen.
  3. Take my iPad. Having an electronic gadget will give me something interesting to look at should the presenter slip into mediocrity by relying too heavily upon PowerPoint. With a good Wi-Fi connection, I’ll also be able to break free from the PowerPoint prison in which I would otherwise be incarcerated.
  4. Keep my Moleskine notebook handy. One never knows when inspiration will strike—perhaps while I’m stuck in a workshop where every screen is weighted down with too many bullet points in too small of a font. With my pen and paper in hand, I’ll be prepared to write another blog post about how much I hate boring PowerPoint presentations.

I’ll close my rant with a quote from Seth Godin. In a list of rules for PowerPoint, he leads with this:

No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.

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