Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Power Point

During a recent conference call, to discuss the substance of a panel discussion on lobbying for non-profits, my fellow speakers and I were asked by the coordinator what other material would go along with what we had to say. I offered an op-ed piece I’d written on the subject, which had been published in a major daily newspaper.

Aren’t you going to do a Power Point,” he asked? “No,” all four speakers agreed, it wasn’t necessary.

Among other things, I am a lecturer on lobbying in the New York Speakers in the Humanities program, and know how to hold an audience. I don’t use Power point for that either. My fellow speakers were equally accomplished.

It has become so ubiquitous a presence, it is simply called by its brand name - Power Point. The word “presentation” is no longer required. A Power Point is understood by all. Well, at least in one sense it’s understood.

A recent New York Times story describes how this tool can serve to confuse an audience, rather than clarify things. As shown in the “illustration” above - Power Point can produce some really atrocious results.

Before developing a slide show every speaker should first ask - is it really suitable for the type of presentation being given? Imagine, for instance, a President giving a Power Point at their inaugural. It would make history, all right, but I’m not sure it would be the kind that would be looked on kindly by future historians.

The point is simple - don’t decide to do a Power Point just because so many other people do. That’s not a very good reason.

Here are a couple of things to consider when you are making the decision:
  • How big is the audience? Power Point lends itself to large audiences. If you are speaking to only thirty or forty people, it may not be appropriate. If your audience can fit in a conference room, you should hand out written material instead.
  • Does your material lend itself to a presentation? If you are giving a talk on the vast variety of galaxies discovered by the Hubble telescope, where there are a lot of interesting visuals, then it certainly makes sense. If you are talking about lobbying for non-profits, maybe not.

Our talk on lobbying was given to 27 people. There were many questions, and a lot of direct interaction between the speakers and the audience. A Power Point presentation would have inhibited that.

It’s an important lesson for every speaker. Decide on creating a Power Point based on what you have to communicate, and the size of the audience. Don’t do it because the audience, or some event coordinator, has come to expect it.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom


  1. Power Point is for the speaker who doesn't want to face his audience and who probably wants to be somewhere else.

  2. Kirk - you make a good point. Of course, there are certain instances where the visual element does serve to add to what is being said. But too often, it takes the speaker's attention away from the audience, and the audience's attention away from the speaker.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. In my opinion, Power Point does have its place with large audiences, but as with everything in life, balance works best. When used to supplement a purposeful talk, it can add to the presentation. When used “as” the presentation, without the speaker’s total involvement with the audience, one might as well look up the information online for oneself and forgo the talk.

  4. Angie - you are absolutely right. Power Point does have a place, and can certainly add to the presentation. I think the criticism has to be that it has become expected, the way salt and pepper are expected at the dinner table.

    I like your point about at a certain point you "might as well look up the information online" and forgo the talk.

    Thanks for commenting.