Next slide please.

Last monday I had quite an important meeting: the Career Office gave us an update on new policies for recruiting students: serious matter, requiring clear explaining from the speakers and attention from the audience.
Some fifteen people gathered in a meeting room around a long table.

There was some tension in the room because of some connectivity issues with the speaker’s laptop and the screen: Apparently the presenter could not project her powerpoint slides on the big screen.  I noticed that her slides were all text-only. No images. After few minutes of struggle I stepped in:
– Excuse me, but if those slides are so important that all that you want to tell us is in the slides, why don’t you just send them via email and adjourn the meeting? Otherwise why don’t you just go through your notes and tell us what’s about?

And so she did, with some hesitation at first, she went on explaining the new policies; she spoke, we took note. People made questions and answers were given.
The meeting ended on time with the audience expressing appreciation for the useful explanations. I actually still remember vividly the key points about the new policy — and people who know me, understand that this is significant! In all honesty, it was the perfect meeting: we got all the info we needed and all our questions were answered.

So, the question we should ask is the following: how come that a brilliant presenter, perfectly capable to deliver an effective exposé of the new policy, was contemplating postponing a meeting because of the impossibility of using Powerpoint? Who shared this blatant lie about text-only Powerpoint slides being indispensable for presentations?
In fact the opposite is true. Powerpoint – and Keynote, Prezi, you name it – can be useful only when presenting data which require visualizations and to large crowds, more or less in the way overhead slides were used decades ago.
But in the vast majority of cases, when you are presenting in meeting rooms or medium size classes, a case can be made for deliberately not using such tools.
Imagine: having back all the time spent worrying about slides, typefaces, colors, pictures and cliparts; and just using it to fine tune your speech. Or go to the movies, visit a friend, read a book, or anything.
It is time to say it plainly: presentation softwares are a waste of time. They do more harm than good in communication. Unless you are dealing with images, unless you are not exposing data that command visualization, then you simply do not need slides. Even when you need images, you do not need fancy presentation tools. And surely when your presentation is text only, then there is simply no benefit in asking your audience to follow you in a silent karaoke.

PS: I just found a “Powerpoint tutorial” online that has this advice:

Have you ever been in the middle of a presentation and wanted to gain the audience’s full attention?
In order to get it you may need to turn their eyes away from yourPowerPoint slides! Use the ‘B’ keyboard button to black the screen and you will immediately gain the full attention of your audience!

Black the screen to gain attention, you said?
And I rest my case.

More from Goffredo Puccetti

Surrealism: the last resource against user-centered design

In our campus in Abu Dhabi, accessing a building via a five...
Read More