Addendum: The Circle of Death (by PowerPoint)

As I mentioned in my first day post, I was delighted when I received a flash drive along with my registration materials that contained speaker bios, PowerPoint slides for each panelist’s talk, and background materials for some presentations. One advantage was that I was able to follow each panelist’s presentation on my laptop instead of furiously taking notes and annoying the attendee sitting next to me with my rapid 80 wpm typing. I can also now look over the slides from the sessions I could not attend.

The second advantage was the ability to blog during the sessions – because I was able to tune out the moderator as (s)he read the text from panelist bios, or the speakers themselves as they read from their slides. Alas, this meant that I still annoyed the attendees unfortunate enough to sit next to me…while they were surfing Facebook on their smart phones and iPads because they had zoned out, too.

I wonder if it ever occurs to speakers that no one will listen to them talk if they can just read the slides on the screen. Granted, many speakers did a great job by elaborating on the content of their slides by discussing programs or activities that related to the text; however, we were most likely not listening to that, either – because we were reading their slides. Most PowerPoint presentations are designed as stand-alone pieces and are written to be read rather than as presentation tools, which is what they are supposed to be. This leads to a high concentration of bulky jargon and large words, which in turn causes the speaker to stumble over some words and mumble others as they wade through their slides. If you have had training in public speaking, you understand that people read differently than they listen. Anyone listening to these presentations would be absolutely lost, as they would be unable to process the barrage of bureaucracy-speak that is clumsily read aloud by each speaker as quickly as possible to leave time for other panelists to read their slides just as quickly so that we can get to questions.

Luckily, we all know what is going on because we are reading their slides rather than listening to anything.


This is the circle of death – by PowerPoint. We all go to sessions and panel presentations, read slides, yawn, get bored, and then give the same types of presentations to pay it forward and bore the audience listening to us. It is a disservice to everyone: it numbs the minds of audiences everywhere and allows presenters to escape a true public speaking experience.

The only way to break the circle of death is to build your presentations differently. Use as few words on your slides as possible. Use pictures and data so that your audience is forced to listen to you explain them – you know it better than they do, so you should not have to read it off your slides. Additionally, if we are actually listening to you, we will get your jokes when you actually crack them, thus bypassing the awkward silence as we emerge from our stupor with the realization that you strayed from your “script.” Better still if you do not need any slides at all! It is a truly intimidating and earth-shattering prospect, but I promise that it is possible – orators did it for thousands of years before computers and teleprompters were invented.

Break the circle of death. Save us from having to read your slides while we ignore you reading from your slides. I may not be able to blog as much, but hey – I am much happier to be listening to you instead.

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