Kill your presentations with Powerpoint

In the mid 90s, I decided to drop slides in my presentations. With few exceptions I have managed to stay away from that crutch while inspiring small or large crowds. In 2000, I was asked by IBM to hold a presentation to 35 important customers. And they demanded slides. I gave them one. It was a white slide with big, black letters, “This is a boring slide, look at the man who’s talking”.

The particle physics magazine, Symmetry reports that six months ago, organizers of a biweekly forum on Large Hadron Collider physics at Fermilab banned PowerPoint presentations in favor of old-fashioned, chalkboard-style talks. Quoting the article:

Without slides, the participants go further off-script, with more interaction and curiosity,” says Andrew Askew, an assistant professor of physics at Florida State University and a co-organizer of the forum. “We wanted to draw out the importance of the audience.”
In one recent meeting, physics professor John Paul Chou of Rutgers University presented to a full room holding a single page of handwritten notes and a marker. The talk became more dialogue than monologue as members of the audience, freed from their usual need to follow a series of information-stuffed slides flying by at top speed, managed to interrupt with questions and comments.
“We all feel inundated by PowerPoint,” Askew says. “With only a whiteboard, you have your ideas and a pen in your hand.

Yup. Less constraints, more freedom. The opposite can turn really ugly.


In 2010, when General McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown the above slide, he dryly remarked “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”

26 thoughts on “Kill your presentations with Powerpoint

  1. PowerPoint is just tool to present sometimes a fact much more pink that is in reality.
    I remember 3 years ago, I was on a working showroom for jobs in Emirates, specifically in Dubai. We were presented a PowerPoint slide with luxury, hotels, Gucci, Armani, Versace, etc.
    We were about 25 people who were accepted to work there. On the final of the PP presentation, all of us asked about salary, social security, accommodation, etc. And why was that? Because…nothing interesting for us was on the PowerPoint slide, except billionaires life. So no matter “luxurious” were the slides, the essence of the whole story was reflected in a face to face interactive human dialogue.
    So I agree 100% professor Askew, even in smartphone or tablets era, a simple piece of paper or a pen can do sometimes more, if you (want to) follow the line of an idea.
    PS. General McChristal lost his commander in chief job for expressing his ideas couple of years ago. Somehow I think he understood what was behind the slide…

  2. I find the motion of drawing a concept more powerful than a static slide. A picture that evolves through me alongside my explanation of the concept is more communicative than a static slide. An evolving picture can be influenced more easily than a static one as it is not yet finished. I find that prompts the person watching to become more interested in the presentation as they feel that they are able to influence what the final picture will look like.

            1. I think that a person ability to inspire the audience to participate in a discussion is enhanced with the use of slides. It all depends on how the person structures his talk and the slides. Many times a picture is worth a thousand words.

              Sent from my iPhone


            2. My experience from giving a few thousand talks tells me otherwise – that the ban on on Powerpoint slides is indeed a cool move.

            3. I’m not saying slides are always useless or that they cannot be used effectively. But I am saying that they more than often act as crutches, that they usually are ineffective and as the article say, are not inspiring participation from the audience. I.e. the article is spot on and with lots of experience, it seems, parallels my own.

            4. Maybe people use slides as crutches because they are not comfortable in talking to their audience in the first place.

              A person who is very comfortable in talking to his audience, as TED speakers generally tend to be, they would use slides sparingly and very effectively. Those slides would be very simple and shall be used to support what they are saying anyway.

              My most favorite TED speaker is Ken Robinson.


            5. Slides should not be used to substitute for the presentation or discussion. They should be used only as and when needed. It means video clips as well. Look at the Oscar presentations.

              This area needs to be worked out.

            6. ‘the ability of the person giving the talk to inspire his audience to

              What are the essential elements of the ability to inspire to participate (based on your experience so far)?

            7. Tailor the talk to the audience on the fly, be spontaneous/improvise, liveliness, ask the audience questions, make them talk to each other, use people to demonstrate, use lots of real world relevant examples…

            8. Cool! Reviving the kid to play a game. You give the members of
              the audience the opportunity to be resourceful by activating their
              knowledge and skills used so far, which activates confidence which boosts creativity in the process. (your ability and opportunity triangles) Being creative is joy and is the basis of the desire to play on…

              Cool, Geir! One plays the best when one is present in the moment. One is then the creator of ‘live-pictures’ while the use of
              slides reduces that ‘presence’….

  3. Apropos book release, Geir. Any info on your book getting released in English?
    I’m waiting……… 🙂

  4. Heisenberg and Schrödinger are driving, and get pulled over. Heisenberg is in the driver’s seat, the officer asks “do you know how fast you were going?” Heisenberg replies, “No, but I know exactly where I am!” The officer looks at him confused and says “you were going 108 miles per hour!” Heisenberg throws his arms up and cries, “Great! Now I’m lost!”

    The officer, now more confused and frustrated orders the men outside of the car, and proceeds to inspect the vehicle. He opens the trunk and yells at the two men, “Hey! Did you guys know you have a dead cat back here?” Schrödinger angrily yells back, “We do now, jerk!”

  5. Is there anyone of this blog who already used bitcoins? Any opinions about it? Sorry, it’s off topic, but I couldn’t find the section for readers debate ideas, posted by Geir last year.

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