46 comments on “10 things I hate about powerpoint

  1. Yay! I’m actually the first to arrive to this party! When I first clicked your article I thought you would mention things I had already read about and corrected. I no longer use bullet points, I try to be lively and walk around, etc. However, you had some faux pas that I have actually committed and very recently. I thought my recent presentation went extremely well, however, I definitely closed my PowerPoint right after the questioning period. I hope my audience did not think I was being rude. One of the reasons was due to nerves but mostly this was because my time was up and felt like I had to rush out. Time is definitely something I struggle with and I need someone to warn me of the time, because I feel it would appear rude if I look at my Iphone time. Any suggestions for how to manage the time?

    Thank you for the audio suggestions. I never use audio clips in my presentations. I have showed videos but now I am interested in how you use audio. I have only used audio at the beginning of a presentation to calm the audience while I was setting up and this has only been for my online classes that I have taught. Now, I am super excited to see your plenary in a few days at ISTEK🙂

    • Hi Shelly,

      first: I am looking forward to seeing YOU at ISTEK too.

      As I was saying above, of course it’s difficult to leave a conference room without people seeing your powerpoint ‘undergarments’!! Sometimes it’s unavoidable of course, but in general I’d go for a covered lens while you disconnect, or just the cable pulled out so the screen goes blank. But of course if you have put your USB into a conference computer it is more difficult.

      Am I being too ‘anal’ about this? Can you think of how to close up effectively when your presentation is on someone else computer?

      As for audio,….well I think an occasional audio clip (or when I use music in presentations, often a lot) really lifts a presentation. They are easy to insert provided you have them on your HD or on your USB. In the plenary ur going to see there’s a short audio clip and then a short video clip. Just talking heads. But they (and 2 ‘reading’ moments, just give the audience time off from my droning voice.

      But you’ll probably find that I have committed all the sins’ I have been talking about here!

      Oh dear.

      See you in Istanbul!

      Jeremy

      • What about setting up your DESKTOP so that it displays that contact information? Or the last slide as a wallpaper…
        That way, you have the time to shut down (if, as Shelly said, you’re holding up the next presenter), but those slow writers still have time to get the details.

  2. Thank you for articulating what has irritated me as an audience member and staff member for years. Slide presentations are painful when they are redundant (saying on screen what the speaker is saying in the front of the room) and even worse when they clatter with whizz-bang animations and rocket-fire sound effects.

    Regarding #6 and the quick shut-down of a presentation: in a conference setting, often presenters must hurry to close down their program because another presenter is scheduled in the same room and needs to take over their slot. It would be courteous, though, for them to explain this to audience members who are standing there hoping to chat at the end. They could offer to meet outside the room to continue the discussion.

    On another note, although I agree that the best presentations are stylish visuals with dynamite metaphor pictures and minimal text, I find that these works of art often do not get the full message across when viewed alone without the speaker. The emotional impact is retained, but not the information. I think many presenters include their “script” and text on their slide show so they can print them or digitally share them as handouts for the audience afterward. When they don’t include the text, the presentation is often unable to stand on its own later without the speaker. I’ve seen some visually stunning presentations posted on slideshare, for example, that intrigued me but left me scratching my head trying to guess how the speaker connected the dots. I have a suggestion that may be extra work for presenters, but would solve the need for presenters to feel they must include all their text on their slide show. I wish presenters would either record the audio of their talk with their slide show to distribute after the event or would make two versions of their slide show — a stylish one that will “go live” for the presentation showing just the striking pictures as supportive visuals, and another one that includes the text, which can serve as notes for audience members or for later distribution. If making two versions of the presentation is too cumbersome, at least provide a handout with an outline of notes. We can’t all attend the live talks but many of us want to benefit from the information.

    • Hi Sharon,

      thanks very much for your comments.

      About the closing down thing. Yes, of course you are right that people have to rush out of rooms to make way for the next speaker. But myself I would much prefer that they cover the projector lens -i f they can – or just pull the plug. Or something. Of course that is not always possible because the presentation is on a USB stick or something on a conference computer, So it’s just an aspiration of mine. Just that when I go to see a play I don’t really want to see into the wings because that ruins things.

      I think you have hit on something when you say that powerpoint can use pictures as ‘metaphor’. I try to use it (and/or keynote) in that way. Music. Pictures. Words etc.

      But of course I get it wrong sometimes too. Just, I hope, not too many lecture-note-type slides…

      Jeremy

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  4. Thank you for posting this on your blog. As I was reading the original article I was thinking “Yes! Yes! Yes… but” and itching to add a few comments. I do so agree with you in almost all of what you say although I do have a few caveats on some of it about circumstances altering cases.

    I think you are far from alone in experiencing that “trapped” feeling – I certainly do. In our professional development day at the start of our academic year (I work in the Australian vocational education and training sector) we had “death by powerpoint” for almost the whole day. All from people who should know better and should be modelling good practice not reading from slides. Incidentally many of the slides had so much text crammed onto them that the font was too small to read – another of my pet powerpoint hates.

    Love the mental pictures you create for me with your visual and aural assault descriptions – a bit like all those websites where the designer has to show off their skills with all the “bells and whistles” at the expense of accessibility! I use images and animations a lot with some audiences – especially the young and/or disengaged where I often use powerpoint as a “hook” for the session to introduce activities and sometimes (using the dreaded bullets!) to leave the steps in a process visible during execution. I have used video but only rarely audio and this has been voice. Like Shelly I find the idea of using music really interesting – my main problem there being that I am musically useless being virtually tone deaf. I am very conscious that this is a dimension much lacking in all my facilitation and teaching.

    I absolutely detest all the “built-in” powerpoint themes and backgrounds and the slide templates. All my slides are always based on the “blank” template and I also do my own colour schemes. Usually a darkish background with shading to a slightly lighter shade of the same colour or to another dark colour and a light coloured text (never white) often a pale shade of the background.

    When I read the points about lecturer management of the session I could really feel myself going ouch! Been there! Done that! I hope I avoid those things now (at least most of the time) although sometimes the tools provided eg laptop and portable projector with very short connecting cables don’t help.

    Having said all of the above I still love powerpoint. For me it’s a great tool with plenty of other uses than just presentations. I use it for preparing whiteboards for virtual room use, paper based resources that use a lot of graphics, simple mind-mapping and flow diagrams, and also occasionally for interactives – and I am fully aware that there are better tools for all of these. However having one tool I can use for many purposes is time effective for me as I don’t have to keep re-familiarising myself with a range of different ones some of which I wouldn’t use often. My own opinion is very much that it isn’t the tool that is at fault it is the way it is (mis)used that has given it such a poor reputation!

    • Hi Jo,

      thanks so much for your comments. Sounds like we think as one here.

      I agree that long chunks of text really don’t work. And I don’t get why people do it, since we all know that putting too much on an overhead transparency is ridiculous, so why should people do it on a ppt slide?

      As for short connecting cables? Well a handheld presenter control seems to me to be an absolutely necessary part of any presenter’s equipment. That way you are free from the computer – though they dn’t always work of course.

      I am sure that I mess up with my shows sometimes – I am worried that I occasionally put too any effects in – but ppt or keynote is a medium I really enjoy using (taking advantage of what it has to offer).

      As to music? Well I don’t personally believe that anyone is tone deaf

      , but anyway…I use music in my presentations quite often because I love it. But I have seen wornderful presetnations without any music at all (of course!)

      I hope you enjoy this post and anyone else’s comments…

      Jeremy

  5. What a refreshing and thought-provoking post!

    I have seen far too many presenters use it as “electronic paper” (your point 1), while others are madly in love with the technology (your points 2 to 5), and yet others forget that PowerPoint should merely be an aid to communication (your remaining points).

    As a presenter, my approach is that PowerPoint is merely an aid to communication, and if I think that it is not the best tool at the time, I will suspend or even abandon the presentation.

    • Hi Phil,

      thanks for your comments, Yes I agree that sometimes it’s better to do away with powerpoint altogether, And yet, and yet…when used properly it’s the BEST piece of straightforward software that I know since it allows a clear visual.audio focus for what’s going on…

      Jeremy

  6. There’s a new, online presentation tool called Prezi, which initially seduced me with its whizzy swooping effects, but now makes me feel seasick. And Prezis tend to be so messy, like looking into someone’s disorganised sock drawer.

  7. Jeremy,

    If you haven’t seen it, here is a classic comedian’s take on Death by Powerpoint.

    You have me convinced – my next presentation is just 10 pictures into my picasa which I’ll play as a slideshow. That’ll do, that’s about 10,000 words….

    David

  8. Hi Jeremy

    Great post and one which I enjoyed reading before hitting the publish button on my latest Powerpoint! I have never presented at a conference with PPT before so I will definitely follow your tips for when I do. I think using audio like Shelly says, is a great idea, but I will have to leave that until I master the basics!

    As for bullet points, I haven’t used any in my latest presentation, but I feel I should have done so in some places. I really would love to use them as I think they can be very effective in grouping things together. Of course, moderation in all things springs to mind and as you mention above, too many bullet points could be off-putting. They seem to be out of fashion at the moment for some reason.

    Janet

    • Hi Janet,

      thanks for this.

      I was thinking: there’s nothing wrong with bullet points per se. Just the relentless way they are trotted out! And if that’s ALL a ppt show is, oh dear!!

      It’s the other stuff you can do on powerpoint that I love!

      Jeremy

  9. Hi Jeremy,

    Not only did I find the tips useful and something to bear in mind, but I also absolutely loved this bit: “you suddenly remember what it is to be a teacher”. I guess most teachers who visit blogs and try to keep up with whatever is new have access to and make use of PPT. No matter how good the tool is, though. It’s still another tool. It may make or break a presentation if not used carefully, right?!😀

    • Hi Rick,

      yes, I completely agree with you that, as with all technology, teaching aids etc, it’s not the ‘what’, it’s the ‘how’ that matters. Currently I am enamoured of Keynote (Apple’s version of ppt), but if I don’t use it well, then it’s as pointless as anything else!

      Jeremy

  10. Love this post and the discussion. Thank you all. Nothing to add except how hilarious I thought the idea of powerpoint “undergarments” is – and a good point too. I had never thought about it and like Shelly was often rushing to make sure my fellow presenter had time to set up (this is one of my pet hates when I go to my presentation room and the previous speaker is busy entertaining the post-talk audience which can sometimes resemble a wedding line up!). Speaking personally what I normally do is do the post-talk questions (still in presentation time). Swiftly pack up and then move the questions and discussion from participants who want to follow up to the side thereby allowing access to the technology for the next speaker. A few times when I had a group of people wanting to ask things (so exciting when that happens) I suggested going for a coffee to clear the space for the next presenter. But I take your point about how obviously this is done and ways to avoid it being intrusive!

    • Hi Sara,

      I’ll swap my ‘undergarments’ for your ‘wedding line-up’! It’s exactly like that sometimes. And I really appreciate your attempts to ‘get out of there’ quickly. I try, but am sometimes surrounded.

      Of course it’s not that easy to disentangle the computer quickly, but it’s worth trying!

      Jeremy

  11. Thanks for this great overview of horrible things that PowerPoint can do, Jeremy. There are of course plenty of nice things that PowerPoint can do and in the right hands it can be a great tool (as you yourself clearly say). But I just wanted you to know that I will be printing out your list as a checklist, and bringing it along to your upcoming plenary this weekend at the ISTEK conference in Istanbul…:-)
    Nicky

    • Nicky!!!!

      now I’m really nervous! I will be watching my every move!

      Seriously, of course I screw up some of the time. But I hope not in all 10 ways -;)

      Jeremy

  12. So true, Jeremy, so true.

    It’s funny, but I think teacher-presenters get ‘sucked in’ to the whole PPT thing very early, and find it very hard to even contemplate operating as a presenter without it.

    I was presenting at a largish conference in Seoul once, and I was demonstrating the Cambridge ESOL test suite as a nicely leveled alternative to the Korean “from zero to TOEIC/TOEFL” system (Korean educators in general are almost completely oblivious to the European Common Framework – and when they hear about it they’re pretty astounded). It required PPT to show example tasks and the organisation of the test suite.

    But hang on – did it? At the same event, as I was waiting my turn to present, Paul Nation got up and did a longish presentation on reading fluency – with nothing but a couple of pieces of paper clutched in his hand. He was brilliant without being ‘flashy’ in any way, and he didn’t actually really move around all that much. But he had 500 people completely enthralled – including me. He knew his stuff, knew how to explain it clearly, and knew how to have a laugh along the way.

    I got up not long after him and wanted to – well, be just like Paul! I got good reactions to my presentation, but from that day forward I either used no Powerpoint at all or nothing more than 8 slides.

    As a final point, later I got to chat personally with Paul over dinner at a restaurant, and it struck me that he seemed to be almost exactly the same in person as he was on stage with an audience of 500. There was another important lesson in that for me as well!
    🙂

  13. Hi Jason.

    what an interesting anecdote! And yes, Paul Nation speaks convincingly – on the one occasion I have seen him – without the need for any fancy ppt stuff.

    But the main thrust of your story makes sense; less is probably more (and yet, now I start worrying about my own ‘overdone’ powerpoints and keynote presentations)

    Jeremy

  14. David :Jeremy,
    If you haven’t seen it, here is a classic comedian’s take on Death by Powerpoint.


    You have me convinced – my next presentation is just 10 pictures into my picasa which I’ll play as a slideshow. That’ll do, that’s about 10,000 words….
    David

    Thanks David, that Youtube video certainly woke me up fully early in the morning! I had a good laugh!

    Hi, Jeremy
    Thanks for another interesting post! I can use this as a checklist on my own PPT. Personally I commited the following “crime”.:)
    Your point No. 1. Using the PPT as my notes. When I commited it? When there was time I felt really lazy and didn’t bother to think about anything for the talk. That were the times when I had to report to my boss.
    Your point No.4. regarding using bulletpoints, most of the talks I did were based on the company’s PPT template, so couldn’t avoid them, but from now on, I’m free!
    Your point No. 6. I did this all the time.oh,I agree to most of the comments here regarding this because if we use a flash disk and if there are other presenters are waiting for their turn, we have to close it straight away. Don’t know if there is a better way of avoiding this. Maybe, most of audience won’t take this “mistake” really serious? Or, you can do a survey with the audience while you are attending the ISTEK to see if they really care about it?🙂

    Another point you mentioned about sound effect. Personally I don’t like noise so I avoid using any sound effect e.g. glass broken sound etc. I only use some effects when it’s absolutely neccesary.

    Thanks for all the good advice there.I can start a “new life” with my PPT template. Thanks!

    Jamie

    • Hi Jamie,

      yes, it IS a problem when you have to use a company’s template, isn’t it.

      As for closing things down, well it IS a problem. But that’s why I try and insist on using my own laptop, so I can just disconnect the projector cable or something like that.

      As for sound effects, well with me I insert audio and music and film clips, but I’m not keen on ppt’s own sound effects.

      But I was thinking (as I presented in Turkey yesterday) that my personal style may not be to everyone’s taste. Not sure.

      Have a good ‘new life’!!!

      Jeremy

  15. I think your next post should be ’10 things I love about powerpoint/keynote’ (as long as one of them is ‘lozenges’.)
    Have you seen this? – what the Gettysburg Address would have looked like if Lincoln had had powerpoint: http://norvig.com/Gettysburg/

  16. Great post, Jeremy.

    If you save your Powerpoint as a pps (powerpoint show) rather than a ppt (powerpoint presentation) your audience gets spared the ‘underwear’ at the beginning and end. But it does mean you can’t make any last minute changes. Don’t know what the Keynote equivalent is.

    I love watching TED talks http://www.ted.com/ and find that powerpoint (or whatever) plays such a small part in the great presentations there. As you say there’s nothing wrong with powerpoint itself but what’s done with it and how much. I’m just preparing my IATEFL Harrogate talk and wondering if I can do it powerpoint-free. I think by 5.15 on Friday everyone will be well and truly powerpointed out. Thinking of using a visualiser instead when necessary so it’s not so static or linear. Then I can actually use it to demonstrate kinaestheic activities rather than just show a picture.

    But a presentation without powerpoint … can I do it????

    Hope to catch up with you at IATEFL.

    Johanna

    • Hi Johanna,

      well I’ve tried to save pp show before, but have had problems with audio/video files etc.

      A ppt-free talk? A great idea.

      What’s a ‘visualiser’? I am intrigued!

      Jeremy

  17. A visualiser is also known as a document camera. Looks a bit like an OHP but goes through beamer and you can just put a book or an object on it and it is projected. Thought it might be good for showing the process of doing something but I have to admit I’m being drawn back to Powerpoint. It’s that irresistible pull!

    Johanna

  18. Hi Jeremy
    Today I observed a lecturer. I realised that I sat there and started to tick the box-if he had the 10 things you hate about PPT instead of listening to him for the first few minutes.
    Let me count: He was holding the remote control,but still stood in front of the projector so his face half blue and half white and sometimes there were some words falling on his nose;He used bullet points all the way through;He used small fonts. He bumped into the wire/lead and the power cut off.Then when he tried to start the computer again,he knocked down the opened bottle of water and all the handouts were wet.The romote control was in the water so he had to change the battery in front of us.
    I think he was not bothered. He was zen-like calm, to my surprise.
    Eventually everything was in place. I found myself really enjoy his presentation.
    All the things happened didn’t bother me. It was a wonderful talk!

    Probably it’s the talk itself that counts.

    Johanna But a presentation without powerpoint … can I do it????

    Johanna

    So I think, it’s truly possible, Johanna, people can cope without PPT, if the talk is a great one!
    I used the visualiser a few years ago. It was an interesting equipment in class, very useful, but it meant I had to either bring pictures or realia as far as I can remember.
    When I did my DELTA course,my tutor was fed up with me using PPTs for every single lesson she observed.She asked me,’Can you come next time without PPT?‘ I actually used a few OHPs instead the next time, but when I look back now, I think it might work with some photocopied handouts only. Oh, is it teaching unplugged then? sorry, I’m lost!

    • Hello Jamie,

      that’s really interesting.

      Yes, I agree the presentation is what matters in the end. But if I had been sitting there watching the presentation you describe I think I would have been irritated by the fact that the speaker was so UNPROFESSIONAL. A mark of respect to the audience is to do the best you can, and that speaker clearly didn’t.

      On the other hand, teachers (we) all respond well when people have problems (like spilled water etc) and they manage to continue despite this.So maybe that’s part of it?

      Jeremy

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  20. What about setting up your DESKTOP so that it displays that contact information? Or the last slide as a wallpaper…
    That way, you have the time to shut down (if, as Shelly said, you’re holding up the next presenter), but those slow writers still have time to get the details (but I am still trying to figure out how to use Powerpoint, so I don’t know if this would work).

    • Hi Jo,

      I like the idea of your last slide being you desktop wallpaper!

      I have come to think (but I get it wrong) that the best way is just to unplug the projector cable!! Or to do the whole ‘out of powerpoint’ move so quickly that no one notices. The thing is that no one needs to go out of powerpoint during presentations anymore; it is so easy to embed audio and video etc – and click on to websites with hyperlinks)

      Jeremy

  21. Point 2: you did use a lot of audio and visuals, but in such a way that it only enhanced your message (speaking about IH Rome conference this past weekend). I was very impressed with the whole “scrap-booking” look to your slides. You speak so passionately that the slides are just icing.
    Point 8: I was immediately HOOKED when you came down off the stage and started talking to US…not to your laptop, and not to the screen. Mind you, I was fairly near the front, so could see well. Perhaps if I has been further away, it would have been frustrating. It just seems like you are so enthusiastic about what you’re saying, that you CAN’T stay still, and that enthusiasm is catching.

  22. Hi Jo,

    you are WAY too kind!

    My own feeling is that the remote ‘clicker’ is by far the most important piece of technology in any presentation mediated by powerpoint/keynote technology. Once you can move away from the wretched computer you can interact with people, create rhetorical flourishes etc.

    On a personal level, presenting isn’t much different from teaching I believe. If you CARE about what you are doing then enthusiasm is what comes through. If you like it. Or (chicken and egg) you have to bring enthusiasm to the task otherwise why should other people get enthusiastic about what you are doing?

    On the other hand😦 I was once told that I move around way too much and that it is distracting, and I am very conscious of that. Trouble is. I get carried away!

    Jeremy

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