Home / How Not to Give a Presentation: the Powerpoint Trap

How Not to Give a Presentation: the Powerpoint Trap

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FCE must take continuing education courses every year, and without fail he will spend a day in a lecture hall then come home and complain about one or two of the lecturers.  His complaints are usually connected to PowerPoint presentations.

It seems that a lot of workshop presenters love PowerPoint. They put on their presentation, they read each slide to their “students,” and that is the sum of the enrichment they offer. Wouldn’t it just be easier to e-mail the presentation and let the students read it themselves? Easier, yes; profitable, no. After all, someone is paying for the participants to attend the workshops (often the participants themselves), which are often expensive.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to enjoy the workshop experience. Happily, I did not have to pay; it was provided by a county employee who runs a program that provides services to at-risk youth. His mission was to introduce a roomful of volunteers who work with courts and kids to his program.

This should be interesting — after all, he’s passionate about his job, and I’m interested in the topic. I have few rules that I expect others to follow, however, one is that if you want me to listen to you, you have to talk to me.

It was with great relief I welcomed his announcement that he hates PowerPoint presentations and wouldn’t be giving one. Imagine the chagrin when he handed out stapled photocopies of — you’re not going to believe this — his all-text PowerPoint presentation, and then read the slides to us. Many of us read quickly through them, and finished by the time he was going through slide two. That left several hours of workshop time for us to pass asides. The four-hour session seemed endless.

Microsoft promoted PowerPoint as the end of boring presentations. We celebrated the end of workshops in which a presenter opened a book and read it to us. This is better? Perhaps Microsoft could revoke some end-user licenses, and sentence abusers to community service. It wouldn’t solve the problem of death-by-boredom presentations, but it would make me laugh.

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About Miss Bob Etier

  • You’re absolutely right, Miss Bob. PowerPoint has been much abused. As an Enron employee ten years ago (I left before the implosion, so don’t blame me if you lost your life savings), I worked as a word processor for a midlevel manager who believed every word he wrote (and he wrote many) was priceless. Consequently, he would direct me to create PowerPoint presentations for him in which huge chunks of text were included verbatim. He would then read these longwinded “masterpieces” to captive audiences of hopelessly bored subordinates. I tried my best to explain the concept of bullet points to this man, alas to no avail. He simply would not hear of putting selected highlights on screen and then speaking more or less extemporaneously, using the bullet points as a guide.

    But, as you know, this is a problem that long predates PowerPoint. As a college student 35 years ago, I was subjected to lecture upon lecture where the instructor simply read his presentation word for word, and worse still, expected us students to transcribe each immortal syllable in our notebooks. “Wouldn’t it just be easier,” you write ever-so-sensibly, “to e-mail the presentation and let the students read it themselves?” My college days were pre-email, of course, but there were already, even in those ancient times, Xerox machines (and before that mimeographs). The instructor could easily have given us photocopied handouts, either for discussion at the next class, or as the basis of later classroom tests. Why didn’t it happen? Because presenters everywhere, like my boss at Enron, are in love with the sound of their own voices.