It’s cool to say “I hate Powerpoint” at the moment.  If you have a presentation to make you get kudos for saying “I don’t need to use slides”.  If you do use Powerpoint you can regain some credibility by saying “Apologies for the slides – I really hate using them”.

It wasn’t always like that.

I remember around 10 years ago when being able to craft a 40 slide Powerpoint presentation including animations and swishy sounds was a real sign of presenter perfection.  Being able to sit in the audience with the “notes” format printout was a great way of jotting down the wonderful insights that the slides brought.  Being able to drop in clever clip art and slowly revealing bullet-points was something to be proud of.  Powerpoint was a much loved friend.

I had a conversation with a colleague about whether slides were good or bad after we’d both just given a conference talk and both used slides.  It was during this lively debate that we both came to realise that “To Powerpoint or not to Powerpoint” isn’t the question we should be asking.  Instead we should be asking “Does what I’m projecting help me to alter the audience in the way I want them to be altered?”  It is what you chose to project as much as whether you chose to project or not.

I like to think of Powerpoint slides simply as a big window that people can look into.  Like an old fashioned slide projector but instead of looking at somebody elses holiday snaps one can get a glimpse of whats going on in the presenters mind.  A window into their creativity.  Slides give an opportunity for a presenter to be a little bit more mad, bad and wrong – and get away with it.  To cause a disturbance in your audience.  If that’s what you want to do.

In my book less is more.  Less structure on slides = more imagination usage from the audience.  Less structure on slides = more opportunity for audience to make their own sense and choices.  Words are a last resort.  Even better if the slides are hand-drawn pictures presented all big to really show off the imperfections.

However, if I wanted to present the fire evacuation procedure to a group then I’d want to be structured, specific, use words and pretty much say the same thing that was presented on the slides to reinforce the important points.  I wouldn’t really want to engage the audiences imagination there or encourage them to make their own minds up.  I’d want to engage their senses simultaneously and for them to hear, see and write the same things at the same time.

Then there is always the option to use no Powerpoint at all and simply talk – its all dependant on how you want the audience to be altered by what you are saying and showing.  It is all context dependent.

To use slides or to not use slides seems to be a new bit of ‘splitting’ in the corporate world – our need to class one thing as good and one thing as bad with no grey space in between.

I feel sorry for powerpoint.  I imagine it thinking to itself “What did I do wrong – it’s you guys that created all the crap boring content!” and waiting for the inevitable pendulum swing in 10 years time when we all fall back in love with it or it’s futuristic offspring.   Poor thing.