Death by PowerPoint
PowerPoint provokes strong reactions, judging from the huge response to the
Magazine feature marking its 25th birthday
. Here is a selection of your memorable PowerPoint experiences, 10 bad and 10 good.
1. I work at a hotel setting up and operating audio visual equipment for our guests. A presenter at a recent medical conference spoke for 45 minutes. He wore a wireless microphone on his lapel and he stood with his back to the audience as he read his entire PowerPoint presentation verbatim as it appeared on the screen. As an added indignity, he highlighted each word as he spoke it with a laser pointer that someone had given him. It has been said that assembling a PowerPoint presentation doesn't require a brain surgeon. This is true, at least in this case. The presenter in question was a brain surgeon.
Andrew Purcell, Houston, Texas, USA
2. Everybody in our office was made redundant by PowerPoint presentation!
3. I was charged with running an eight-day training event put together by external consultants who shall be nameless. They produced 1180 slides, all words, no graphics and all black print on a white background. Death by PowerPoint!!
John Bradford, Durham
4. My worst PowerPoint experience? A company Christmas party where a senior executive did a stand-up turn with all his jokes meticulously displayed as a PowerPoint presentation. Why do they do it?
Tony Bevis, Horsham
5. The most boring presentation I was ever required to sit through was on workplace violence, of all things. The presenters (there were three) took turns standing up and reading their slides to us, having already distributed print-outs. To add insult to injury, the slide format was jumbled, the colours were garish and the printing hard to read (both on screen and on paper). It was not helped by the fact that only one presenter spoke audibly!
Pat Nelson, Potsdam, NY, USA
6. The first speaker at a conference I attended told the audience that he would not be using a PowerPoint presentation because "they had neither power nor point". The poor folks waiting to follow him with PP presentations were doomed.
7. I have just sat through 117 slides with graphs and charts. Information gained? None other than whoever wrote the presentation cannot spell and to avoid at all costs the next invitation for one of his updates...
Paul Allievi, Riyadh
8. I have just come out of a PPT presentation that was absolutely horrendous despite the interesting content. Wading through mounds and mounds of economic data on subsidies in the field of energy services is certainly not exciting, especially when done in a PPT crammed with endless text with typos, in all different styles, fonts, formats with the constant movement of the mouse. Excessive use of the mouse or the LED Pointer is very distracting and develops cat-like instincts bent on catching this fast moving object or predicting its trajectory.
A. Labnouj, Geneva, Switzerland
9. In my time as a conference producer we used a very early version of PowerPoint in 1988 for a laptop product launch instead of 35mm slides which was the established presentation method. Sadly most of the PowerPoint 'slides' were just text but one presenter included a black and white drawing on a slide. Laptop PCs at the time had very little RAM memory and this large bitmap image proved too much for PowerPoint as it took nearly eight minutes for the PC to display that slide. Forewarned of this problem the presenter and audience just waited in silence for this wonderful new technology to deliver!
Andy Dean, Coulsdon, Surrey
10. The worst use of PowerPoint I encountered was printed PowerPoint slides used as a placemats for a team building lunch (at a chain pretending to be a homey pub though we couldn't drink - though several of us were dying to). The slide had an extra large piece of clipart in the centre, everyone's names on the border and the phrase "we grow more as a team" or some team-y platitude. Our group's morale was already at rock bottom and this masterpiece sucked our souls dry.
Denise S, Minneapolis, USA
...AND THE GOOD
1. At a convention I was asked to put up a slide showing how our computer systems work. Company policy prevents me from giving details at such conventions. My single slide was a cartoon picture of a sandwich, the top bread being the firewall systems that the world sees, the interesting filling bit kept secret and the bottom layer of bread protecting the filler from the corporate users. This got more questions at the end of the full presentation than any of the highly detailed slides with machine names and IP addresses in 4px.
Darren Wall, London, UK
2. Stan Openshaw (Geographic Information Systems Guru) was the absolute best presenter I ever saw. Most of his PowerPoint slides contained just one word and he belted through them at breakneck speed. Very engaging.
Jeremy Thomas, Maryport, Cumbria
3. The best PowerPoint presentation I sat through was a lecture on Solid State Physics where the lecturer chose to include extracts from the Britney Spears Guide to Semiconductor Physics.
Nawal Husnoo, Manchester
4. During my second year when someone stood up to do a presentation on concrete types (it was a construction degree!). Instead of the usual facts and figures, in the middle of the presentation was a cartoon clip of a dancing gorilla. Completely inappropriate to the subject, however it kept us all watching to see what would happen next!!
5. A friend, who was one of those rare, really fine speakers in the field of medicine, gave, according to him and myself, his best presentation when his first slide appeared and proved to be one from his recent vacation in the Maritimes - he had brought the wrong stuff to the meeting. So, he simply carried on and spoke to his audience without all the coloured, distracting nonsense that presentations have become.
Ornum Gnorts, Krakow, Poland
6. I was recently up in Edinburgh and saw a debut comedy show from Marc Hogan who is a professional speaker on the business circuit and his show was funny but also a masterclass in PowerPoint. Using slides, graphs, photography, subliminal advertising, video and audio to great comic effect. It proved to me, a complete novice at PowerPoint, that it can be a brilliant presentation tool that makes designing your presentation a whole lot easier and effective.
Mart Gordon, Shoreham By Sea
7. My Scouts, when they complete the Chief Scouts' Gold Award, are required to make a presentation to the Troop and invited guests. About seven years ago, we were "instructed" that they must use PowerPoint. The firs one was a disaster - I had left them to sort it out themselves, as usual, and all they did was put up about a dozen closely-typed, bullet-pointed slides, which proceeded to read off the screen. And this was an ABLE bunch! I took steps to guide them through the required repeat. And all subsequent groups of Scouts, too. First, they decide WHAT they are going to say. Then they write the script - or HOW they are going to say it. Only then do they produce the slides - mostly pictures, lots of animations and effects, and always a running joke on every slide that will only make sense at the very end. Little of what they actually say appears on the slides, so the audience has to pay attention. It is possible to use PowerPoint (or, in our case, Keynote) with thought, imagination and creativity to put on a good, interesting and non-soporific show.
Bobby, Woking, UK
8. Consider using blank slides while talking about a point that doesn't require a visual aid, or during discussion not related to a specific slide. This removes the distraction! Come to that... before starting to write a presentation of any description, ask yourself if you really need any slides at all! A well planned presentation doesn't always need any kind of visual aid, and I feel that too many people use PowerPoint as a security blanket, rather than as an aid to dispensing information.
9. The only person I've ever seen getting it just right was a certain Mr David Icke.
Andy Robson, Hartlepool, UK
10. I found two tricks to help keep a PPT presentation be a bit more engaging. First: always STAND at the front with your back to the screen, face your audience and WALK around. If possible, set up you laptop screen so that it's as close to the visual plane as the audience, like on a table in front of you but not underneath you so you keep your eyes on your audience as much as possible, and use your laptop as a guide to cue for slides NOT as a teleprompter. People are learning from YOU, not the PPT, so trust yourself first and of course, know your stuff. Second: use a variety of examples to drive home your point, not just pie charts but video, if possible, full screen pictures all on their own slide and avoid ganging disparate elements on one page, this just creates visual clutter with your audience trying to decipher what's on screen and not listening to you.
Peter M, Jersey City, NJ, USA