Really Bad Slide

Ugly PowerPoint

I am really interested in how people learn, communicate and persuade. In my professional life, I have to do this all the time. Yet I am constantly amazed (considering how much time we all spend doing it), how little time we spend thinking about how we learn, communicate and persuade. Take PowerPoint. Like it or not, (and there has been plenty good and bad [Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint ] written about it) PowerPoint seems to be the default media in which the world (at least that part of the business world culturally dominated by North America) speaks.

I have seen (and if I am being honest) participated in some terrible PowerPoint. Why is this so prevalent? Let me guess some of the reasons:

1. No time

Let’s face it, none of us have enough. Work expands, or shrinks, to fit the amount of time we have. So thinking about how we are going to communicate or persuade, to convince our audience, becomes something we would like to do in theory, but don’t do in practice. “Winging it” becomes an art form.

2. No appreciation

We have all seen artful persuasion at its best, and at its worst. But rarely do we constructively critique our own, or our colleagues work. If we don’t do that, then how will we set the bar, let alone raise it?

3. Delegation

Possibly the worst mistake I have seen. If I have to make a pitch, convince someone, sell, that is my responsibility. I have to know my audience, I have to flow through the logic of my argument, I have to tell my story. But very often, “I” am not the person who is the office PowerPoint wiz. “I” haven’t the time. “I” know a great designer. Even worse, there is a standard “capability deck”. So delegation becomes abrogation of responsibility.

When you are using PowerPoint, you are trying to communicate and persuade. This is both an art and a science. You may not have the budget to bring in some expert communication consultant but you can dedicate more time, you can learn to appreciate this skill done well, and you can get involved.

(first posted elsewhere on January 10, 2005)

Gavin_Animated-GifGavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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