Why I Hate Slideshows

By the time this posts, I will be completing the last of 6 training sessions over the last two weeks. The culmination of weeks of planning and preparation reminds me of why I don’t use slideshows. For my style of presentation, I far prefer the lost art of the chalk-talk.

It begins with my distaste for most uses of slideshows in presentations. As a rule, slideshow usage falls into one of two categories, both equally annoying to me. The first is the script: whether it’s a few simple bullet points per slide or a complete wall of text, it doesn’t matter, because the presenter is going to read you every single word on those pages. Slowly. Haltingly. Maddeningly! I understand the utility here; if you are really very nervous about public speaking and really very uncomfortable in front of a group this feels like a tremendous weight off of your shoulders, but I assure you that you’re not making yourself MORE comfortable by making your audience less so. Instead, consider notecards with that same information on it, then rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You’ll still be nervous, but preparation should take the edge off and make you able to present.

The second use of the slideshow is as an exclamation point: each topic is accompanied by a slide that in some way visually highlights the points being made, typically in a way that doesn’t add to or elucidate the point, but merely visually represents it. Now, if this is done in a particularly humorous way or done in a way that enhances retention for those of us who are visually minded, it manages to work–but the failure mode for this is the appearance of a superfluous crutch. It becomes a nuisance very quickly in those cases, and often serves to distract from your point rather than provide emphasis to it.

Beyond just how poorly slideshows are typically used, however, is how they place artificial boundaries on my presentation. Slideshows tie me down, both figuratively and literally. In a literal sense, I’m bound to either a rigid cadence enforced by the timed slide progression or I’m bound to my computer and/or a remote control to progress through my slide deck. While this can be used to some great effect, it rarely is, leaving me artificially structured by a construct that is providing minimal value.

Figuratively, though, I’m tethered far more restrictively. I have sacrificed the ability to flexibly follow the flow of my audience. Some of the most compelling moments of a lecture or presentation have come when I noted that an explanation didn’t land with my current audience and I’ve “called an audible” and broken my explanation down a different way.  Being able to just continue drawing in order to expand upon an idea–or even to wipe the slate clean and try a different approach altogether–has tremendously enhanced my ability to convey thoughts, ideas, and concepts in a way that is understandable to the folks listening to my words.

Remember always, that is the whole point of the exercise, right?

There is absolutely a time and a place for a slideshow (and I have, with some degree of success, used a mixed presentation model that includes both ugly drawings and static slide cards), but I would argue that those are exceedingly few. When making your next slideshow, ask yourself if what you’re putting into PowerPoint is actually aiding the audience’s understanding of the topic, or is it merely distracting. Even better, I invite all of you that present regularly to step out of your comfort zone, grab a marker, and try including your audience in your next presentation!