Powerpoint clichés we would like to retire in 2013 (and a few techniques to try instead)

Posted by: Tedstaff

This talk from TEDxBrussels felt like a breath of fresh stage. A collaboration among science writer John Bohannon, choreographer Carl Flink and the dance troupe Black Label Movement, the talk is illustrated with dance, not slides.

“I think that bad PowerPoint presentations are a serious threat to the global economy,” Bohannon says. “As you’re all aware, we face difficult economic times. I come to you with a modest proposal for easing the financial burden … Let’s use artists instead of PowerPoint.”

Intrigued? Watch John, Carl and Black Label Movement’s flat-out astonishing new TED-Ed video: “Let’s Talk About Sex.”

We at TED love slide decks — PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi (full disclosure: TED was an early investor in Prezi) and all kinds of advanced slide-fu. A great deck helps speakers add visuals to their spoken words, stay on track, and craft memorable reveals. But at the same time, we still see slides used badly far too often. Here, some slidecraft we would happily never see again (and a few new tricks to try instead).

“The powerpoint zombie that I have been trying to kill for years sounds like this: ‘Write out the sentences that I am going to say on a slide. Look down at the monitor as I read them.’ Very hard to edit.” Laurie House, Film + Video Editor

“It gets really old to see a lot of bullet points on slides. Simplify!” Cloe Shasha, Projects Coordinator 

“People feel like they have to have a ton of slides. When there are slides, people focus on that and not as much on the speaker. That said, the talk that I loved dearly that I wish we could do more like was Jon Ronson’s because of all the visual activity. That was fun.” Ben Lillie, Writer/Editor

“Creative fonts. Ick.” —Kate Torgovnick, Writer

“Animated text. No more sparkles, fireworks or lens flares, please.” Shanna Carpenter, Community Engagement Manager

“I dislike text on a powerpoint presentation. To keep our attention, use your ability to tell a story and your passion about the subject.” Jordan Reeves, TED-Ed Program Facilitator

“I like when a speaker isn’t afraid to start their talk on a black screen. Use a slide when you need it, and when you don’t, just talk.” Emily McManus, Editor

A brilliant slide reveal from Pankaj Ghemawat

Using a simple slide to reveal a surprising data point, Pankaj Ghemawat wins at powerpoint during TEDGlobal 2012. Photo: James Duncan Davidson.


More slide tips from the TEDx manual >>

TED slide style deconstructed, by Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen >>

Comments (9)

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  • Toke Kruse commented on Feb 21 2013

    We DEFINITELY want to eliminate reading sentences off of a slide. That is SO “middle school Literature project.” And as much as bullets work in copywriting, blogging and in table of contents – no one cares to watch slide after slide of 3-5 word fragments. I’d like to think my blog is somewhat of an authority on adding some spunk and attraction to professional PPT presentations. The mission is to eliminate boring and dry slide presentations. It’s 2013 already! Attention spans are shorter than ever. And like you said, the cliches HAVE to go.

    Then after, the poor design elements are eradicated, we have to address poor public speaking skills. An entertaining speaker can make a bland presentation work. A bland speaker can’t do anything with an entertaining presentation.

    Essential TED stuff… technology, ENTERTAINMENT & design. Simple concept.

  • Ben Buckley commented on Jan 5 2013

    I think these are all great points, but lets keep in mind the uses of these slides. A slide that only has “actually… 8%” is a great reveal if you are there or watching a video. Most viewers of slides don’t get to see it that way. Typically, you find the slides on the topic in your email or some document repository at your company. A slide that just has “actually… 8%” is completely useless. Maybe the presentation maker companies need to include an option for each slide that allows the owner to select if the slide gets displayed in “presentation mode”.

  • Marsh Makstein commented on Jan 4 2013

    John Bohannon calls this “Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal”. I’d call it more like a Pathetic Proposal. Now first I have to give a disclaimer that I’m a partner in a company that designs and produces PowerPoint. I have made a living from designing and producing PowerPoint for 25+ years. John’s TED presentation was a terrific presentation, more like a wonderful performance.

    How he can compare what he did to 99% of the millions of presentations given daily is laughable. Most presentations are about sharing business information – not about wacky ideas of replacing PowerPoint slides with dancers.

    Most of the PowerPoint presentations we work on have a large financial stake. Just last month we assisted with a presentation for a meeting that led to a successful billion dollar acquisition. I’m sure there was some dancing around the board room table once that deal was done.

    People love to hate PowerPoint and bashing it sure helps sell books, blogs and TED Talks like John’s. It helped make Ed Tufte famous and sell lots of books. John’s claim that bad PowerPoint contributes to the poor economy is ridiculous. Yes, I would agree that “bad” PowerPoint probably has contributed to many lost sales, lost business deals and millions of wasted meeting hours.

    From my view, I see PowerPoint as an amazing business tool (Keynote, Prezi, etc. included) that helps businesses communicate critical information efficiently when the “tool” is used correctly. Besides the daily use of PowerPoint by millions that contributes to the buying and selling of probably billions of dollars of products and services, the many budget and business strategy presentations with big financial implications, I would argue PowerPoint’s use is a large positive contribution to the economy. I’d also like to point out to John that over my 25 years in the business of creating PowerPoint graphics I have hired many freelance presentation graphics designers that by day were dancers and musicians, but at night they did freelance graphics work that put bread on the table and paid the rent.

    Illustrating a message with dance instead of slides is a nice idea and done extremely well by John and the Black Label Movement dance troupe. Maybe I’ll try a little dancing around the room at my next management meeting presentation.

    It is obvious that the dancers in this TED Talk were professional and well-rehearsed. I’d suggest you try that with your next high stakes PowerPoint presentation. Hire some professionals, plan it well, rehearse often and you will find PowerPoint will perform well for you and deliver the results you need.

  • commented on Jan 3 2013

    Reblogged this on SuricataTek.

  • Simon Morton commented on Jan 2 2013

    The biggest issue with the use of PowerPoint is a lack of a cohesive story or structure. This is one of the things TED Talks do well (OK, most of the time!).

    With a clear story and structure, the age old issue of too much text or wacky animations are so much easier to avoid.

    You can only do this by using the most powerful presentation authoring tool known to man – a pad of paper and a pencil. Once the story is in place, you have room to develop visual supports that will ensure your audience is engaged and with you for the whole journey.

  • commented on Jan 1 2013

    Reblogged this on Stephanie Rochefort.

  • Randall Bretz commented on Jan 1 2013

    How many times have I seen someone put a spread sheet in a PowerPoint deck, then say, “I know this is too small for you to read . . . ” Instead, why I urge them to either do a graph of the data or share one or two key figures from the data and discuss it.

  • Emily McManus commented on Dec 31 2012

    Oooh, and I forgot my favorite slide tip: Make your photos cover the entire screen, edge to edge. Your audience didn’t come to see your fancy background ;)