PowerPoint as the Generic…ugh

While I like a great many of the trends that I see in the presentation community, here is one that I loathe:

“Create a PowerPoint for your presentation.”

My disdain for this new expression exists on many levels, but I’ll cut right to the chase: In elevating the slide deck to such importance, it threatens to undermine and cheapen the experience of creating and delvering a presentation. It’s also unfair to the software, as if it is primarily, or worse, solely responsible for the success of a presentation.

I understand that PowerPoint’s saturation is about 99%; I practically owe my livelihood to that fact. Nonetheless, I cringe when I hear it used as the ubiquitous noun for all things relating to a presentation. We don’t say “Create a Word with your thoughts,” “Put together an Excel with those figures,” or “Write me up an Outlook on that.” Why is PowerPoint different?

I fear that the answer is in the way people view the slide deck: Too many people see one’s slides as the presentation itself, as if the presenter is secondary. And this, of course, stems from the unfortunate reality that people rely too heavily on their slides when giving presentations. Too much text, too many complete sentences, too many audience members thinking “couldn’t you have just emailed this to me? Why did I have to be here?”

Where do we stem this tide? We start by remembering that you are the presentation; your slides are not. They must be subordinate to your ability to connect with your audience in meaningful ways and on levels other than the purely intellectual. Audience members are moved to action because they feel it in their gut; that rarely happens because you created a “good PowerPoint.” It happens because you conceived a good message, prepared content to support that message, and yes, prepared compelling visuals and key points to complement that message.

“Creating a PowerPoint” does not bring rise to any of those critical activities. It cheapens the entire process. Creating a slide deck to help with your message is fine; asking it to BE the message is not!

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