Once again I was asked to help someone deliver a presentation using a PowerPoint slide deck prepared by another person.
And once again I found it a thankless, futile, frustrating task.
And I’ve come to this conclusion:
Don’t give a presentation using PowerPoint slides that you didn’t have a role in creating yourself.
It doesn’t work for any number of reasons.
First, most PowerPoint slide decks are a mess that need to be revised.
Individual slides are frequently poorly designed. Each slide on its own is usually crammed full of too much information and too many words. Individual slides don’t present, explain, and illustrate one central idea.
And individual slides frequently fail to build a coherent story. They are simply tacked on one after another, as if they are free-standing ideas.
PowerPoint slide decks often–almost always–need to be clarified, simplified, and rearranged. And you often only know how to do so when you’re rehearing your presentation.
When you’re presenting a slide deck that you’ve created on your own, you are free to clean up your slides or to rearrange them so they make more sense. But when you’re given a slide deck and told to present it as best you can, you’re left trying to make sense of a mess.
It’s okay for someone to create slides for you, as long as you are given the time, knowledge, and authority to change them.
Second, presenting someone else’s slides puts you in a subordinate role.
There is–or there should be–an intimate connection between you and the message you’re delivering.
Presenting someone else’s material makes you a mouthpiece, a marionette, nothing more.
If you can’t own the slides, you can’t own the message. Which is never a good thing.
Third, presenting someone else’s slides makes you focus more on the message than on the audience.
PowerPoint slides are not, nor should they be, a script. The words and images on the screen should be a prompt for what you are going to say. They should enable a conversation between you and your audience.
But when you’re given a slide deck that is created by someone else and that is a mess (see above), you have to figure out how to make sense of what you yourself don’t understand. (Sometimes you’re given a script in the notes page, which doesn’t clarify a thing.)
So you go over your script again and again to make sure you say what you think you’re meant to say. Your focus, too often, is on being true to the message created by someone else, when you should be trying to help the audience understand and accept your ideas.
Don’t give a presentation based entirely on slides created by someone else without your input. And don’t create slides for someone else to present without involving them in a meaningful way.
See also When Not to Use PowerPoint.