Ten years ago I delivered ‘Escaping PowerPoint Purgatory’ at the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) conference. I spoke about the research from Prof John Sweller¹ and how putting text up on the screen encourages us to multitask and this, in turn, increases cognitive load and reduces retention. Last month I was invited again to speak at the AITD National conference and I had a chance to pause and reflect on the changes I have seen the last 10 years.

One of the changes that have impacted the way we present is the rise of the TE talk. In the past presentations were like lectures and had a high level of formality. The TED talk style is relaxed and authentic with less reliance on PowerPoint and more on delivering an engaging and memorable message.
I have seen PowerPoint slides improve over the years but the same problems still pop up.


Here are seven PowerPoint problems and how to best avoid them.

 1.  Don’t start with PowerPoint

You should never start a presentation by opening up a PowerPoint deck. Starting with PowerPoint forces you into lecture mode and inhibits your creativity. Your first steps are to set an objective, think about what the audience’s wants and needs are and develop your topic. PowerPoint should be your final step before you get up and practice your presentation.

2.  Using slides as your speaker notes

When asked people why they have this particular slide they tell me that they needed so that they know what they are talking about. As a speaker, you need three things:

  1. Your notes to keep you on time and task. These should be brief and in bullet point and contain the gist of your presentation.
  2. An audience handout with additional detail. This is where you put the spreadsheets and links to further information.
  3. PowerPoint slides to show diagrams and photos for greater understanding.

3.  Clichéd photos

A few years ago I worked with a medical company. They were designing some new slides for one of their training workshops. The photos they were going to use were clichéd medical photos containing handsome people with dazzling smiles holding stethoscopes. I asked them who the longest-serving staff member was and I saw them come to life when they talked about their people. I suggested that these were the people that they wanted to have in their training slides. Wherever possible use real photos as they contain stories and a genuinely engaging.

4.  PowerPoint is not the only visual tool

Don’t confine yourself to the PowerPoint box. If you have a working prototype, show me. If possible let me touch, taste and smell it. I call this ‘selling on all senses’. When I work with entrepreneurs I encourage them to make a mock-up of their product and show the investors.  If you can get people to hold your product they all have ownership of it and are more likely to have buy-in.

5.  Passionate people persuade not PowerPoint

Recent research featured in the Harvard Business Review with entrepreneurs showed that those with bigger gestures and passionate delivery received 12% more interest from investors. PowerPoint does not persuade, information alone does not persuade, passionate people, do. Emotions are contagious, show people that you’re excited about your topic to deliver your material in an engaging way and you’ll win over your audience.

6.  Too much text

PowerPoint is a visual tool, so why would you use text? PowerPoint is perfect for showing us what you mean. Show me a map, a diagram, a picture of that house, a chart, a mind map, a graph. The goal is to use PowerPoint for the visual and you to narrate the text. If you have a whole lot of background information or a spreadsheet or complex diagram, put that in the handout.

7.  Do you really need it?

One of the things I do regularly when presenting is turn off the PowerPoint. I use a Logitech power presenter that has a blackout button. If you don’t have one you can press the “B’ key on the keyboard which will turn the screen black. The ‘W’ key turns the screen white. I call this the ’So what?’  button. When you black at the screen the audience automatically looks at you, you are no longer being upstaged by the PowerPoint and your presentation has a greater impact.


10 years on and I’m still delivering keynotes and workshops on  “Escaping PowerPoint  Purgatory.” If your slides are inducing prolonged somnolence, I can help you with that!

Here’s to producing slides that entice, engage and persuade.

Ten years ago I delivered ‘Escaping PowerPoint Purgatory’ at the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) conference. I spoke about the research from Prof John Sweller and how putting text up on the screen encourages us to multitask and this, in turn, increases cognitive load and reduces retention.

Last month I was invited again to speak at the AITD National conference and I had a chance to pause and reflect on the changes I have seen the last 10 years. One of the changes that have impacted the way we present is the rise of the TED talk. In the past presentations were like lectures and had a high level of formality. The TED talk style is relaxed and authentic with less reliance on PowerPoint and more on delivering an engaging and memorable message.

I have seen PowerPoint slides improve over the years but the same problems still pop up.

Here are seven PowerPoint problems and how to best avoid them.

  • Don’t start with PowerPoint

You should never start a presentation by opening up a PowerPoint deck. Starting with PowerPoint forces you into lecture mode and inhibits your creativity. Your first steps are to set an objective, think about what the audience’s wants and needs are and develop your topic. PowerPoint should be your final step before you get up and practice your presentation.

  • Using slides as your speaker notes

When asked people why they have this particular slide they tell me that they needed so that they know what they are talking about. As a speaker, you need three things:

  1. Your notes to keep you on time and task. These should be brief and in bullet point and contain the gist of your presentation.
  2. An audience handout with additional detail. This is where you put the spreadsheets and links to further information.
  3. PowerPoint slides to show diagrams and photos for greater understanding.
  • Clichéd photos

A few years ago I worked with a medical company. They were designing some new slides for one of their training workshops. The photos they were going to use were clichéd medical photos containing handsome people with dazzling smiles holding stethoscopes. I asked them who the longest-serving staff member was and I saw them come to life when they talked about their people. I suggested that these were the people that they wanted to have in their training slides. Wherever possible use real photos as they contain stories and a genuinely engaging.

  • PowerPoint is not the only visual tool

Don’t confine yourself to the PowerPoint box. If you have a working prototype, show me. If possible let me touch, taste and smell it. I call this ‘selling on all senses’. When I work with entrepreneurs I encourage them to make a mock-up of their product and show the investors.  If you can get people to hold your product they all have ownership of it and are more likely to have buy-in.

  • Passionate people persuade not PowerPoint

Recent research featured in the Harvard Business Review³ with entrepreneurs showed that those with bigger gestures and passionate delivery received 12% more interest from investors. PowerPoint does not persuade, information alone does not persuade, passionate people, do. Emotions are contagious, show people that you’re excited about your topic to deliver your material in an engaging way and you’ll win over your audience.

  • Too much text

PowerPoint is a visual tool, so why would you use text? PowerPoint is perfect for showing us what you mean. Show me a map, a diagram, a picture of that house, a chart, a mind map, a graph. The goal is to use PowerPoint for the visual and you to narrate the text. If you have a whole lot of background information or a spreadsheet or complex diagram, put that in the handout.

  • Do you really need it?

One of the things I do regularly when presenting is turn off the PowerPoint. I use a Logitech power presenter that has a blackout button. If you don’t have one you can press the ’B’ key on the keyboard which will turn the screen black. The ‘W’ key turns the screen white. I call this the ’So what?’  button. When you black at the screen the audience automatically looks at you, you are no longer being upstaged by the PowerPoint and your presentation has a greater impact.


¹https://www.smh.com.au/technology/research-points-the-finger-at-powerpoint-20070404-gdpu3u.html

²www.ted.com

³https://hbr.org/2019/05/when-you-pitch-an-idea-gestures-matter-more-than-words

Sharon Ferrier

Sharon Ferrier, through her business ‘Persuasive Presentations’ consults to organisations and individuals who have a need to improve their communication, presentation skills and confidence in public speaking.
Sharon Ferrier

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