Seek PowerPoint slide on laptop screen on desk

PowerPoint is not the enemy of design (or a great presentation).

Jeff Bezos banned it from being used in meetings at Amazon. Harvard University research suggests it can damage your brand. There’s even an international movement dedicated to banishing it to the annals of history. Yes, Microsoft’s much maligned PowerPoint may be just be the most ridiculed and detested piece of software on the planet, but does it really deserve such a bad rap?

Let’s take a quick look at why poor PowerPoint has garnered such a wretched reputation – and what we’ve learned through experience to ensure we get the most out of it.

A good carpenter

PowerPoint is a tool – and as we all know, a good carpenter never blames their tools. It only takes moments for Google to uncover the incredible art that can been achieved with programs as basic as Microsoft Paint, and a quick search of ‘Photoshop fails’ to realise that fancy software does not maketh the digital designer.

Rather, a lack of professional design skills – which, like everything, take years of training and experience to master – are the root cause of PowerPoint decks that are an aesthetic abomination. But a PowerPoint presentation doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective. Far more important than design polish is the content and flow of information, and this is the first area where so many presenters fall down.

Put simply, PowerPoint – like Prezi, Keynote, Clearslide, et al – should be used to support enhance what the presenter is saying, not to mirror it or to provide a script for the presenter (or the audience) to read from – especially if it’s page after page of bullet points. A separate ‘leave behind’ summary document does a much better job of this.

Actual slide from ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ Powerpoint (Whippet)

The cart before the horse

In the same way an author doesn’t just sit down and make the story up as they go along, nor should a presenter open up PowerPoint before they’ve decided on what the point of their presentation is. Understanding the information that needs to be conveyed, and then structuring it in such a way that it tells a compelling story is crucial to ending up with a polished presentation.

When done well, a PowerPoint presentation can be enthralling – one prime example being Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Although it’s not an impressive film visually (basically just a slide presentation), Gore’s skill as a presenter has you captivated for the entire length of the film.

Another great example of an engaging use of PowerPoint can be seen in Dave Gorman’s hilarious stand-up routines Dave Gorman’s Powerpoint Presentation and With Great Powerpoint Comes Great Responsibilitypoint. When questioned about his penchant for PowerPoint, Gorman simply says that it allows him to provide evidence for his stories. He stresses that fancier transitions wouldn’t make his show any funnier.

Learning to love PowerPoint

Over the years, we’ve had numerous clients ask us to create PowerPoint decks for them to be presented to both internal and external audiences. More than a few times this has resulted in a bit of light-hearted eye-rolling from our designers, who would ask ‘Can’t we just do it in InDesign?!’. Not anymore.

As the saying goes, practise makes perfect, and our creatives now produce stunning decks that push the boundaries of what PowerPoint can do to support a presentation. Granted, the polish of these presentations comes from a combination of professional design prowess and an in-depth understanding of PowerPoint, but the main reason our clients have been so happy with the final result is not just because they look nice.

In every case, before we begin designing we collaborate closely with our client to ensure we have a clear understanding of what they’re trying to achieve in their presentation, the story they are telling and the points they want to make. Next, we consider what imagery, graphics and words could work to support that content, and whether the content is structured in a way that tells an interesting story. Then, and only then, do we begin designing the deck. The result is a presentation that is professional, engaging, compelling and aesthetically appealing.

Our clients have frequently told us that our willingness to work with PowerPoint has made their lives that much easier. Not only can the presentation be forwarded to their clients and colleagues with the safe assumption that they will be able to open it (everyone has PowerPoint after all!), our clients enjoy the flexibility to make tweaks and shuffle the slides to suit the audience and their time allowance. 

We see the PowerPoint deck and accompanying presentation as a marketing channel just like any other. It is created for a specific target audience with the intent of selling something – an idea, a point of view, a plan, a product or service. It should represent the brand it comes from, but unfortunately it is usually not given the attention, or budget, it maybe deserves.

So, to Jeff Bezos and the boffins at Harvard we say this: don’t blame PowerPoint for the boring presentations you’ve had to endure. Blame the presenter and/or creator of the presentation – they’re the ones in the driver’s seat.

We’re not suggesting PowerPoint is perfect by any means, but its ubiquity is an asset – and with a little effort it can help you make, well…powerful points!

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