5 reasons the real problem with PowerPoint is you

By Dez Thornton & Bob Rathbun

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I’m here today seeking justice on behalf of the falsely accused PowerPoint presentation. A word of caution before we begin, this court proceeding will deviate from the traditional hearings process in which both sides present an opening statement outlining what their version of the evidence will show.

In other words, you will only hear one side of the argument. No, this is not a kangaroo court, but you will be expected to render a verdict. Counsel for the defense will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that speakers (not PowerPoint) are to blame for the audience members who died of boredom during their presentation.

Born on April 20, 1987, PowerPoint's original intent was to provide visuals for speakers within business organizations. The facts will clearly show that, over the last 30 years, negligence on behalf of the speakers has allowed them to become overly reliant on these visuals.

This is the real problem. Since its conception, PowerPoint’s sole purpose has been to complement a speaker’s presentation. But over time, those speakers figured out they could load their entire speech into the presentation program. When this happened, the defining line between a speaker and his or her PowerPoint presentation was forever blurred.

And, unfortunately, once PowerPoint began playing the starring role in presentations, speakers relinquished a considerable amount of their effectiveness. This is the reason that, worldwide, frustration with boring, ineffective presentations is wrongly blamed on PowerPoint.

"Since its conception, PowerPoint’s sole purpose has been to complement a speaker’s presentation. But over time, those speakers figured out they could load their entire speech into the presentation program."

When iconic companies like Google publicly sentence PowerPoint to death, it is nearly impossible to get a fair trial. Jurors, I beg you to keep an open mind as I lay out the evidence against the people, devoid of speculation and conjecture. After hearing it, I’m sure you will reasonably conclude that banishing PowerPoint from the face of the earth is an overreach by the people.

Exhibit 1: Purpose

The people don’t fundamentally understand that PowerPoint was never intended to be a substitute for the speaker. As I said in the opening, it was designed solely to provide visuals for business presentations, the key word being visuals. The people gradually diminished Power Point’s effectiveness by first adding captions to images and then escalating from captions to bullet points and, eventually, full sentences. This is in direct conflict with PowerPoint’s original purpose.

Exhibit 2: Navigation

The people have repeatedly demonstrated they are unwilling to make the upfront time investment required to comfortably navigate PowerPoint. This is evident by the number of onscreen “surprises” and “technical problems” that occur during presentations. Additionally, on-the-spot testing of the speaker’s skills makes it very clear they don’t know their way around. For them, navigating PowerPoint is like driving a car for the first time, and not knowing where the switches for the headlights and windshield wipers are.

Exhibit 3: Priority

Too many people use PowerPoint to begin the creative speechwriting process. This is not only a fatal mistake; it also is the exact point at which speakers forfeit their starring role in their presentations to PowerPoint. Instead, creating a slide deck should always be the very last step in preparing a presentation.

Exhibit 4: Design

The people typically take a “throw everything against the wall” approach to slide design, ultimately cramming far too much information onto a slide. PowerPoint design should be approached from a minimalist point of view. Start with an image and add as few words as humanly possible to convey your point.

Exhibit 5: Interaction

During their presentations, the people interact with PowerPoint in mysterious ways, like reading from each slide or instructing the audience to ignore slides that should not be there. These types of interaction are evidence that the speaker is not in control.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I appreciate this rare opportunity to forthrightly represent the defendant in the case of PowerPoint versus the people. The evidence against the people is overwhelming. If PowerPoint had a voice, we can only assume that it would advocate for its original purpose, enhancing a speaker’s presentation with visuals.

As you exit the courtroom to deliberate, I leave you with two final questions: How much blame for boring presentations can the people ascribe to an inanimate object? And who will they blame next, the microphone?

Bob Rathbun

Dez Thornton

Emmy award-winning broadcaster and voice of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Atlanta Hawks Bob Rathbun and communications consultant to CEOs Dez Thornton share actionable strategies to refine public speaking and leadership communication skills.

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