As a professional presentation designer, I love talking to people who want presentations designed. But sometimes I’ll talk to a person who’d really be better off if they presented without a PowerPoint. When that happens, I turn the dollar signs off in my eyes and talk rationally about why they really don’t need to hire me.
What are your goals?
People generally present for one of three reasons: they’re selling something, they’re teaching something, or they’re trying to persuade people to do something. The goals are different for each reason, but In all of these cases they’re trying to get the audience to react in some way.
When you’re able to clearly articulate your goals, you can figure out whether or not a PowerPoint deck will help you to get there.
You want to sell something
Depending on what you’re selling, a PowerPoint could either be a big help or a big distraction. If your product or service is highly technical, then it might help to simplify complicated ideas with infographics or short phrases.
But if you’re selling something that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, a product demonstration could be more effective than a slide show. What better way to get people to buy your stuff than to have them to sample it for themselves?
You want to teach something
So many students on Twitter complain about professors or corporate trainers who simply read to them off of their slides. What a waste of time! Slides should enhance your lesson, not be a substitute for actual teaching.
The best teachers are storytellers, are enthusiastic about what they’re teaching, and actively involve the classroom in the discussion. People who are actively engaged in their learning tend to remember their lessons better than those who are lectured to. Is a PowerPoint going to make your teaching more engaging and memorable?
You want to persuade people
By “persuading people,” I’m not talking about persuading them to buy something. Rather, it includes getting people to come around to your way of thinking, considering a point of view different from their own, vote in a particular way. etc.
There are many ways we can persuade people—talk to them, role play, tell stories, describe the consequences of inaction, appeal to their humanity. Usually, a traditional “Death by PowerPoint” deck does not make that deep connection with the audience that is necessary to change minds. The written word, though powerful, is no substitute for a persuasive speaker.
So, do you need a PowerPoint?
Am I trying to talk myself out of a job? Not at all! There are many types of visual storyteling that can really benefit from a PowerPoint presentation. With animation, graphics, and text, it’s possible to communicate things that would be confusing to describe with just the spoken word.
But you shouldn’t always use PowerPoint as your default presentation method. Think about your goals and, more importantly, how your audience will experience your presentation. Maybe for your next talk you can go “off the grid”!