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Avoid Death by Powerpoint

It seems that we haven’t really come all that far from Death by Chalkboard, even with the brief stop at Death by Overhead Slide Projector. Which raises the question: Why? Why do we continue to bore our trade show audiences with a non-stop barrage of bullet points?

I think it is because we mistakenly believe that a PowerPoint presentation makes us better presenters. Well, for the most part, it doesn’t. It makes us LAZY presenters.

BACK STORY: Part 1: Death by…

“Hey, Mr. Kalinga. How about I take your notebook down to the office and make a copy for everybody?”


In actuality, he would copy his lesson from a green Marble Composition notebook that he held in his other hand. Copy it verbatim – word for word – right there on the blackboard.

Our job, of course, was to copy the lesson from the blackboard into OUR little green Marble Composition notebooks.

When he filled the board, he would ask if we were ready, he would then erase it and continue where he’d left off. This process took pretty much the entire 42-minute period of Mr. Kalinga’s Science Class.

At some point during the process of copying what was on the board that was being copied from his notebook, I remember thinking, “Mr. Kalinga is an idiot.”

Of course, being in 7th grade, it didn’t seem like a great idea to offer that observation. So instead I said, “Hey, Mr. Kalinga. How about I take your notebook down the hall and make a Xerox copy for everybody? Then we could all go home early.”

That got a pretty good laugh. And I got to visit with the principal.

Cut to: 40 years later

I am walking the aisles of (Insert Name of High Tech Trade Show Here) and watching live presentations. Presentations being delivered by Product Managers, Engineers, Professional Speakers, VP’s of Marketing – you name it. While I see no blackboards or scribbling pre-teens, I DO see something on the faces of the audience members that I recognize from 40 years earlier: The look of impending death…


Image by Product School

What You Should Do

Does PowerPoint have value? Absolutely. Can it help strengthen and clarify a message? Without question. But it must be used properly and judiciously.​ SO…we hereby offer you the following suggestions to ensure that your audience will live to wander the aisles another day…

#1 Do not put what you are about to say on the screen

Seems obvious, right? Well, almost every presenter using PPT does this. Trust me, your audience, for the most part, can actually READ. And they can probably read faster than you can talk. And when they’re done, so are YOU! Reading a PowerPoint slide to your audience is one (very small) step away from Mr. Kalinga’s approach to education.

#2 Do not display a ‘here’s everything we’re going to talk about” slide

Particularly one with 15 bullet points. Your audience will be gone before you even start. They don’t need to know what you’re going to say. Just say it.

#3 If you must put text on a screen, remember, you are not an optometrist

And this is not an eye exam. Review your presentation from the back row. If you can’t read EVERYHING without squinting, the font is too small.

#4 Do not use an “in summary” slide

With 15 more bullet points. Your audience will have the same loving relationship with that slide as they did with the “Here’s Everything We’re Going to Talk About” slide. But by then, they’re probably asleep, so it doesn’t much matter anyway.

#5 Avoid PTSD (PowerPoint transition stress disorder)

Transitions and Slide Animations CAN provide visual interest, but please don’t go overboard. You’re not working for Pixar.

#6 Color

Particularly one with 15 bullet points. Your audience will be gone before you even start. They don’t need to know what you’re going to say. Just say it.

#7 TMI

Too Much Information. Keep your slide simple: not too many images, VERY little text, and graphs if they clarify a point you’re making. My strong feeling is that if your WORDS can’t clearly convey what you’re saying and a strong graphic element will help, then use a slide. Or use a simple “Heading” slide to provide a visual backdrop for a particular subject. Your audience can glance at the slide for reference and then they will focus on you and what YOU are saying. (Exactly what they should be doing!)

#8 Consider a PowerPoint alternative


This is a visually compelling, web-based alternative to the PowerPoint presentation. I seriously recommend you give it a try. Again, used properly, it is, I believe, one of the strongest presentation mediums out there. 

Flip Chart

Yes, you can go lower tech still and use colored pens and a flip chart. Again, this can be a very immediate and powerful alternative. Neatness counts, however, so avoid this and the whiteboard at all costs if you failed Penmanship 101.


This can be a very powerful “low-tech” solution to the presentation problem. There’s an immediacy and impact in something that is being created at the moment. Used properly, this can be the strongest way to support your ‘story.’

Chalk Board

And finally, you can go seriously “OLD SCHOOL” and use a chalkboard. I’ve seen it done at a trade show and surprisingly, it worked really well in that particular application. It might be worth a shot.

How We Can Help

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