The Thrill and The Agony of PowerPoint

We all know the ancient wisdom that a picture is worth a thousand words. But, is there value in a picture of a thousand words? I am not the first to pose this question in the context of the use of Microsoft’s PowerPoint software.

Before business became as Web-centric as we now know it to be today, first came the late 1980s and PowerPoint. Since then, PowerPoint has revolutionized how business presentations are made. As the Paul McCartney lyric has taught us, “There is good and bad in everyone,” and this is certainly also true of PowerPoint.

The good traits are well known to everyone who relies upon PowerPoint: This amazing presentation software enables users to create image-based pages (slides) that easily can be shared by someone using a computer, projector and a screen. PowerPoint presentations also can be printed on paper and handed out. It also is very common to email a PowerPoint presentation to recipients so that they can view it on their own computer and print it if they so choose. These attributes of PowerPoint make it very popular in business, especially.

I believe that there are not necessarily accompanying bad traits to PowerPoint, itself. I have learned from professional experience, however, that bad things frequently can happen stemming from the misuse of PowerPoint. This combination of good and bad is a simultaneous outcome that delivers both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

PowerPoint came to be before the widespread use of the Internet for business and before Web browsers. So, it is tempting to think of this powerful presentation software that came to be in the offline environment as being separate and different from the online experience.

But, in reality, there are core similarities between Web pages and PowerPoint pages: Both can present words in text form along with images on pages, and both can give an audience audio and video content that easily can be replayed by the user at their convenience.

These capabilities are at the heart of the matter of why bad things can happen to good people who use PowerPoint. The most common negative outcome when using PowerPoint (and also Web pages) is what happens whenever the writer is not sufficiently skilled or talented.

The problem is not with Microsoft or with PowerPoint. The problems begin with any person who uses PowerPoint incorrectly. It turns out that not knowing how to write and produce successful PowerPoint presentations can create very serious business problems.

The most common business problem is PowerPoint presentations that contain pages upon pages of too many words. There can also be too many images placed into PowerPoint pages. The purpose of PowerPoint is to enable the sharing of visually powerful presentations. So, why oh why is it so prevalent that people put too much information into PowerPoint pages?

We have all seen PowerPoint presentations that run 20 or 30 or more pages. We have all attended presentations in meetings where the speaker will actually say, “I apologize to those of you in the back who cannot read all the words on this page.”

Verbally saying something does not change the audience experience. In fact, as soon as the presenter says something about what is wrong with the PowerPoint presentation’s text or images, the audience immediately will focus upon those deficiencies.

More to the point, there should never be any need whatsoever to apologize aloud to anyone in the audience during a PowerPoint presentation. The time to think about the audience and the viewing experience is during the writing and creation of PowerPoint presentations.

The need is very simple: If everyone in the intended audience cannot easily and quickly read all the words and see all the images on the page so that each person processes the intended meaning or messages on the page, then there is a fatal flaw built in to that PowerPoint page.

Such fatally flawed PowerPoint pages should never be presented in public. The problem is compounded by those who print and hand out PowerPoint presentations with too many words and images on too many pages. An unforgivable outcome is if someone emails you their PowerPoint presentation that is such a large file it clogs up and slows down how your email inbox performs.

These traits related to excess are easily preventable. The solution is only to trust people who have skills and talents in writing and creating PowerPoint to do this important work. Just because PowerPoint is relatively easy to use does not mean that everyone should use it in the business world.

Contact me if you want professional assistance in creating PowerPoint presentations or Web presentations and I will enable your own thrill of winning over your target audience while sparing you the agony of failure.

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