Deliver Better Presentations by Understanding PowerPoint's Top 3 Myths

Last Updated May 3, 2010 9:06 AM EDT

I don't hate PowerPoint. I use it frequently, and the honest truth is that I actually like it quite a bit. But my caveat is that I believe I'm an excellent public speaker. I am a comfortable extemporaneous speaker, and I know how to use PowerPoint as a tool to enhance my presentation.

But what if speaking in public is not a natural skill for you? You might fall prey to many of the problems that afflict the military's use of PowerPoint. More to the point, you should be wary of the 3 key myths that cause the worst PowerPoint abuse.


In last week's Harvard Business Review, David Silverman picked up on the same New York Times article I told you about yesterday, and he reminded us why he thinks that "PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives."

But again, let's be clear: PowerPoint is a pretty good tool, if used properly. And the complaints I'm reading about these days aren't confined to PowerPoint. There's nothing inherently evil about PowerPoint. I spent some time in the Air Force, and I can assure you that I had to make 3-bullet slides on overhead transparencies all the way back in 1992, long before PowerPoint was on every desktop. PowerPoint simply made it easier to make those presentations look more polished and authoritative.

All that said, here are 3 PowerPoint myths which lead to the terrible presentation experiences we see today:

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words. The ease of creating graphics has led to people making dense, incomprehensible charts and diagrams which detract, rather than add to, understandability. They take longer to make, longer to suss out, and can often be replaced more effectively with a few words.

PowerPoint Is for Reading. Whenever someone requests (or demands) that you send the PowerPoint deck ahead of time -- so it can be reviewed the day before the presentation -- a kitten dies. It forces you to build long, dense presentations which stand alone, rather than support your verbal presentation. Try to follow Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 Rule. If you don't, you might as well just write a report in Word.

Brevity Above All Else. You can go too far in the other direction, as well. Single word slides are completely inscrutable a week after your presentation.

Photo by Rosa Menkman