The Cure for Death by Powerpoint

The most engaging presentations don’t include slides!

Isn’t that what it’s all about; engaging with your audience? Whether you are informing or selling, your objective is to persuade your audience to your point of view. And the first step to persuasion is audience engagement. Yet when we use slides in an inappropriate manner we often disengage ourselves from the audience. Unless you need a visual aid, consider improving your engagement with your audience and leave the slide deck at the office.

Five Slide Cardinal Sins

We’ve all seen them and no doubt we’re all guilty of committing them. Undoubtedly we commit more than just these five errors with our slide presentations but these five are my top picks for slide errors that go a long way to explain why the use of slides detracts from many presentations:


  • Too many slides. How often are you forced to sit through a 20 minute presentation where the presenter bombards you with 50+ slides? Seriously, that’s way too much information. What were they thinking? Are they trying to show how smart they are? Are they trying to impart all the knowledge they have on the subject? The reality is that because they are presenting the audience will presume they are an expert on the topic so the speaker doesn’t have to waste time trying to prove that point.  The reality is the audience needs time to absorb the information on the slide and to process that information along with the presenter’s commentary, so a good rule of thumb is to spend no less than 3 minutes on each slide in the deck. So, if you are to speak for 20 minutes, that’s a maximum deck of 7 slides. Anything more and your points are lost.


  • Talking to the screen. Hello….I’m here….talk to me! How often do you see that? Up go the slides and the presenter turns and starts talking to the screen. I know you want to check that the screen has updated and you also find it easy to remember your lines if you read the points off the screen. However, you’ve turned your back on us and in that position there is no way that you can engage with the audience. The audience might as well play a recording of your presentation as have you speak with your back to us. And while the audience feels let down, you the speaker get nothing out of the experience. If you have your back towards us, how can you tell our reaction to your material? You can’t. All audience feedback is lost. Finally, isn’t it socially unacceptable to turn your back on someone when you are speaking to them?  t doesn’t have to be this way because the solution is easy. Place the laptop with the presentation in front of you. Glance at the laptop screen when you change pages and only turn around to the screen when you wish to point out a part of your slide to the audience. Oh, yes, and to get over the need to see the slides on the big screen, I suggest you have a test run BEFORE your audience arrives.


  • Slides too busy. This sin definitely is one way to lose me. How often do you see slides with (seemingly) hundreds of words on the page? It is as if the communicator wrote their speech onto the slide for us to read and for them to remember. It’s easy for the presenter just to read the presentation off the slides. No need to practise or learn the presentation. The trouble with this approach is that the audience can read faster than you can speak. Therefore, if you have your presentation up there on the screen, why are you in the room? You aren’t adding any value! It would have saved everyone time and money if you had emailed your presentation to everyone and let them read it at their leisure.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be text that fills the slide either. There are those people who like to compress multiple slides onto a single slide. You’ve seen them. The slides where there are four graphs on the slide, with one in each corner. While it might look impressive when you are preparing the slide, you are doing your audience a disservice because they are unable to clearly see the information you are trying to convey.
    Arguably, one of the best communicators of the last 20 years was Steve Jobs, who was famous for his one word slides. With those single words he would generate more engagement from his audience than you can with your 100 words. Perhaps when you are communicating less really is more.
  • Not explaining your slides. “…you can see on this slide that …..”…well, in fact, no, I can’t see your point because you haven’t explained it to me. While you, the presenter, might be familiar with your material, we, the audience, are not. In fact, this might be the first time we have seen this chart and we need some time to understand the point you are trying to make. Yes, please explain the axis and please explain what you have plotted on the chart. As the presenter, you want us to follow you on your journey and agree with your conclusions. Yet, jumping to the conclusions without giving us a chance to process the information you are presenting will lead to disengagement and another lost opportunity. Slow down. Explain your chart and we’ll follow you to your conclusion.
    Oh,and while we are talking about charts, think about what you are showing. If you are showing a trend then you need a lot of data points. If you are showing a single point, don’t show a large number of data points. When presenters make these mistakes I start to question their conclusions. My advice to clients is everything on the slide must have a role. If it doesn’t strengthen your case, why is it there?
  • Not knowing the material. How often does this happen? The presenter is seeing the slides for the first time when they are presenting. In these situations you communicate that you, the presenter, are not the expert because you don’t know your material. Could we have the person who prepared your slides instead? Seriously, the person who is presenting should know the material. If they didn’t prepare the slides, or at least be involved in editing the presentation, they have no reason to stand in front of the audience. They will do you, the audience, and themselves a disservice. If it was good enough for Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, to spend hours working on his presentations, it is good enough for you to spend some time working on your presentation!

The Cure

The preferable solution is not to use slides and turn the presentation into an interactive conversation. Or alternatively, use slides sparingly to create impact. When you do use slides:

  • Less is good. Remember the 3 minute rule and have few slides in your deck;
  • A picture does tell 1000 words. Use slides to illustrate points. Use pictures and charts rather than words;
  • Make your charts clear. Label your axis. Show trends. Make your point obvious;
  • Use a few key words rather than sentences. Your audience will remember your points; and
  •  Focus on the audience and engage with us.


The best presentations are made without slides because they are conversations. If you must use slides, use them sparingly and have clear, concise, and “punchy” content. Most important of all, you’ll increase your persuasiveness if you engage with your audience.

For guidance on improving the effectiveness of your presentations contact Inspirational Leaders (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).