I just recently listened to the Powerpoint cast and was left with my major concern unanswered.

After sitting through countless presentations where the Powerpoint is either read verbatim or includes bullets for every minor point, I've come to the conclusion that the powerpoint detracts from the presenter and his message.

My major concern - what BELONGS in a Powerpoint?

I present about multimedia, advertising, and other visuals. It seems to me that my powerpoint should simply serve as a visual aid. It serves to communicate an ad, website, or something else that would otherwise be difficult for the audience to envision.

I'm all for that 1 slide per 10 minutes. But the cast never elaborated on what SHOULD be on a slide.

On a related note, if your presentation is merely visual aids, what belongs in a handout? Should I elaborate in the handout so the audience has a take away of my main points?

ccleveland's picture

The best PowerPoints I've seen and have had success with have shown a visual representation of the topic. For example a "model" or diagram or chart that intuitively represents the concept being discussed.

This takes a lot more effort and creativitivity than just a list of bullets, but it takes advantage of the visual "strength" of the PowerPoint slides.


stephenbooth_uk's picture

The recent members only cast about how to pre-wire a meeting covered this. Registration is free so if you haven't registered already I reccomend you do so.

My personal view is that it dends on the sort of presentation. If you're trying to instil knowledge in people (i.e. teach) then you probably need to include a lot of information on the slide and hard copies of those slides plus a fairly hefty set of supporting documentation (or at least references to supporting documentation) will be the hand outs.

If it's more of a pitch to try to get backing for an idea or proposal then the slides should be quite sparse and purely the bare bones.

In the cast M&M reccomend a very small number of slides, that can work very well (I've given 30 minute presentations with 5 or less slides, my record is two but that was cheating slightly as they were animated so each slide built up through about 5 steps to the final slide). Also (depending on your style, the culture you're in and the topic) a very large number (I once gave a 10 minute presentation that used just over 200 slides, an average of 3 seconds per slide although most were only up for one or two seconds and some for 10 seconds or more) can also work but each slide has to be very simple and just makes a very quick an impression before being replaced. But be very careful if you go that route and make sure that you really know the audience. In my case I got the idea when I saw an Oracle DBA consultant, Connor McDonald, give a very sucessful 45 minute conference presentation using about 1100 slides. I later had to give a very similar presentation (different subject but in a similar vien) to a very similar audience so figured it was worth the risk, it turned out it was.


jhack's picture

A great example of what CC is referencing (ok, it was video not PPT but the idea is the same) is Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone. You can find the videos on YouTube very easily by searching on "steve jobs iphone intro" (it's broken up into pieces, so no single link will suffice).


indyguy's picture

[quote="stephenbooth_uk"]The recent members only cast about how to pre-wire a meeting covered this.[/quote]

Thanks - I would've never imagined the cast covered that based on the headline!

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="indyguy"][quote="stephenbooth_uk"]The recent members only cast about how to pre-wire a meeting covered this.[/quote]

Thanks - I would've never imagined the cast covered that based on the headline![/quote]

That's where being a premium subscriber comes in handy, you can skim the show notes to pick up the main points before listening. I tend to skim the show notes then listen to the cast whilst reading the notes verbatim in pace with M&M. Helps it to stick in my memory, like that old saying "Tell me once I hear, tell me twice I listen, tell me three times and I understand".

No topic is an island, coaching depends on O3s and feedback, feedback runs a lot better when you understand DiSC (indeed an excellent overview of DiSC can be found in one of the feedback casts).


James Gutherson's picture

Check out Presentation Zen and [url= this post [/url]for some great Presentation design tips.

rthibode's picture

Great link, thanks Jim!

Mark's picture

I am not sure that the Pre-Wire cast does waht indyguy wants.

Alas, we only had however many minutes. Teaching what goes on a slide is a whole other topic, which we have in the queue.

Generally, though, think of a presentation as an essay or speech that follows generally accepted good writing principles. Your first sentence in each paragraph is your topic sentence...

And each bullet is a topic sentence.


PS: Please, folks, don't confuse me with someone who thinks this is the BEST way to present. But this is the best way to teach MOST people how to construct PowerPoint slides. There are levels to presentation skills, and very few are ready for speech giving guidance.

NorthwestPassage's picture

Might I suggest the book, "Beyond Bullet Points" by Cliff Atkinson? He walks you through what should go into each slide and give a rationale based on pshychological research.

tcomeau's picture

May I suggest a course, "Presenting Data and Information", a one-day course taught by Edward Tufte. ([url][/url])

It includes a discussion of why Powerpoint is fundamentally wrong for actually communicating information, and how the "bullet point" style gets people killed.


bffranklin's picture

Let me also throw out; Garr Reynolds covers a lot of this stuff on his blog.

terrih's picture

[quote="tcomeau"]It includes a discussion of why Powerpoint is fundamentally wrong for actually communicating information, and how the "bullet point" style gets people killed.[/quote]

I haven't taken the course, but I read an online presentation about that latter bit.

It's not hyperbole, in case anyone was wondering. Poor PowerPoint organization has gotten people killed. Literally.

eastcoastrob's picture

Here's an interesting article on the topic of how to improve your slides:
[url= Cognitive Science Can Improve Your PowerPoint Presentations[/url]

HMac's picture

Let me try one other approach to your question:

My major concern - what BELONGS in a Powerpoint?

Maybe your presentation doesn't require PowerPoint.

Could you possibly do the presentation - and get the main point across memorably - without any presentation aid?

If so, do it.

If not - then those few things that you couldn't possibly do without might be the only things you need in your PowerPoint.

eastcoastrob's picture

What a great point, Hugh! If we all focused on being great public speakers the visual aid wouldn't be needed.

mjpeterson's picture

I would tend to disagree with that point. If you are trying to teach or educate, in such a way that people will understand and also be able to recall the information, visual aids are critical. Anyone who has sat through a engineering or technical presentation knows this to be true. Doing a technical presentation without visual aids would often be impossible or at least completely ineffective. The danger for technical presenters is making the visual aids effective and having the right pace. The maxim of using fewer slides is however still true and most technical presenters still try and use too many slides that overwhelm people’s ability to recall the information.

HMac's picture

mjpete - I understand your objection completely - I only ask you to think my approach through to it's logical conclusion:

[color=red]* If it's impossible to do your presentation effectively without visual aids then by all means, use visual aids.[/color]

The heart of my suggestion is the [i]starting[/i] point, not the [i]ending[/i] point: the common approach is to start with the assumptions that:
* slides are necessary,
* that the best way to summarize points is to reduce them to bulleted phrases,
* that there be an "agenda" slide at the beginning,
* that a slide near the end says "questions" or "next steps" on it,

etc, etc.

And I think that's why most presentations are similar, mediocre - and forgettable!

I agree that technical presentations require visual support - I only suggest that by starting from more of a "minimalist" position and only including what's absolutely necessary, you're more likely to end up avoiding Death by PowerPoint...

jhack's picture

Patrick Winston delivers a great lecture every year to the MIT community on how to give a lecture. You can find it at:

He provides a non-PowerPoint focused view of how to be effective in a teaching/presentation context.


tcomeau's picture

[quote="mjpete"]Doing a technical presentation without visual aids would often be impossible or at least completely ineffective. [/quote]

Doing a technical presentation with Powerpoint seems likely, to me, to be ineffective. My most effective technical presentations are done with a whiteboard, with the real technical content on paper you can take with you. The resolution of Powerpoint slides is far too low to communicate technical issues of any significant complexity.

For the Wavefront requirements review, we threw up some slides for the agenda, where to find the bathrooms, and the comment process. We used the requirements document itself for the bulk of the presentation.

I don't particularly object to Powerpoint for program or project status discussions, as long as nobody ever reads any of the words on the slide.

I cringe when I see people putting critical information about how the Observatory is designed, or will be integrated, or even operated, into a Powerpoint presentation. It makes me think they haven't read the Rogers Commission ([i]Challenger[/i]) report, or the [i]Columbia[/i] Accident Investigation Board report.

And I think engineering by Powerpoint should be a criminal offense.


Greenest's picture

I find my expectation of good PowerPoint changed when I saw Merlin Mann's Inbox Zero and his other presentations.

Have a search on SlideShare.