When NOT to Use PowerPoint

Christopher Witt —  March 20, 2014

When not to use PowerPointIn spite of the fact that I’m the author of Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint, I don’t hate it. It doesn’t make me foam at the mouth or denounce it as the end of civilization as we know it.

(I’m not a member of the Anti-PowerPoint Party. Yes, there is such a thing, an official Swiss political party.)

Many of my clients use PowerPoint and use it well. On occasion, I even use it.

But PowerPoint is used too often and inappropriately.

PowerPoint is a tool. It’s a complicated, somewhat sophisticated tool, but it’s nothing more than a tool.

In my opinion, PowerPoint is a more-than-adequate, but less-than-perfect tool. You may think otherwise, and I won’t argue with you. But I will keep insisting that it’s a tool.

As with any tool, sometimes PowerPoint is used well. Sometimes not. And sometimes—frequently—it’s used when it shouldn’t be.

Just because you have a hammer and you know how to use it correctly doesn’t mean you should hit everything with it.

The same is true with PowerPoint. Even if you can use it well, you don’t have to use it all the time. There are times, in fact, when you’d be better off not using it.

Here are three times when NOT to use PowerPoint.

1. Don’t Use PowerPoint when You Want to Build a Strong Connection with Your Audience.

Placing the screen center stage, dimming the lights, and standing off to the side tells your audience that you are unimportant. What matters, you’re saying, is what’s on the screen: look at it, not at me.

But there are times—especially if you’re a leader or if your credibility as an authority is crucial—when you want people’s full and undivided attention.

You want audiences, on those occasions, to actively interact with you. You don’t want anything to stand between you and them.

This isn’t an ego thing, by the way. It isn’t about wanting to be the center of attention. It’s about prizing your relationship with your audience. It’s about wanting them to pay attention to you in the same way that you’re paying attention to them.

2. Don’t Use PowerPoint when You Have a Story to Tell.

Some speeches are, in essence, an extended story.

If it’s a short speech, you tell a story. You state its moral or take-away truth. You reinforce or clarify your point. And you issue a call to action.

If it’s a longer speech, you start telling your story. You pause at a critical moment and make a comment, adding insight or corroborating material. You resume your story. You pause again and elaborate on some point. You resume your story. And so on.

When the story is your message, PowerPoint gets in the way. It pulls people out of the imaginary world that storytelling creates, and pushes them back into a pedantic, prosaic mindset.

If you think PowerPoint is requited to illustrate your story in some way, you need to work on your story. And you need to trust the power of storytelling.

3. Don’t Use PowerPoint when You Want to Motivate and Inspire People.

PowerPoint is useful for communicating information: for presenting charts and graphs, diagrams, illustrations, maps, and graphics of all sorts. It appeals to people’s reason and need to understand. It does not fire them up or stir their emotions.

To rouse people to take action—to motivate and inspire them—you need to engage their imaginations and emotions. That’s not what PowerPoint does.

Think of a coach giving a pep talk during half-time. Or of a commander addressing the troops before battle. Or of a politician giving a stump speech. There’s a reason they don’t—and why they shouldn’t—use PowerPoint.

Don’t use PowerPoint simply because you can, or because everyone else does so, or because the audience expects you to.

Use PowerPoint when—and only when—it helps you achieve your speech’s goal.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

2 responses to When NOT to Use PowerPoint

  1. Hi Chris,

    Thank you for your post, I find it valuable insight. I’m looking for a .PPT alternative, or something that works with .PPT to do what I’m trying to accomplish. At the company I work for, our team has to create, update, and re-create huge ppt presentations (most upwards of 60 slides per deck) every quarter as client data and financial data changes. The primary audience is: our CEO, our VP of Sales, and existing clients (to impress them). Some of the most time consuming slides consist of a client logo, and next to that two separate but grouped boxes that contain client data (revenue, HQ, products we support, countries we support them in). The data comes from excel and is manually updated. There are anywhere from 5-8 clients per slide. It takes me about 4 days each quarter to get it into this visually pleasing format, deleting clients who have left, and adding new clients, cross checking all of the data for accuracy – all of this for 65 or so slides. Do you have any suggestions as an alternative to .ppt? The excel tables .ppt creates don’t look nice, even without any cell-lines. I’m determined to find something our VP likes – that’s more efficient, accurate, yet pleasing to the eye.

    Thank you,