Banning PowerPoint isn’t the answer – just use it more effectively

In many businesses, the use of PowerPoint has become synonymous with presentations. I wonder how many times the phrase ‘well, that was death by PowerPoint’ has been said. We’ve all been in meetings or at conferences where your mind begins to wander because the presentation is just so dull; the speaker is reading a long list of bullet points that you could read for yourself.

Amazon Founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, recently repeated his rule that PowerPoint is banned in executive meetings. Instead, they write a comprehensive memo which is read in silence at the beginning of each meeting and then discussed. Unfortunately, the reality for many businesses is that banning Powerpoint just isn’t going to happen. It’s an integral part of most of our working lives.

In the same way that Elon Musk told staff at Tesla to walk out of unproductive meetings, it’s better to improve or fix something that isn’t working effectively, rather than just throw it out. I’d rather see bullet points banned rather than PowerPoint.

PowerPoint made it much easier to develop slides. We’ve come a long way since the days of handwriting or photocopying text onto a transparency or film, but there were advantages to this. You had to get it right otherwise it would cost a lot of time and money to start again. You really had to think carefully about what you wanted to say.

The most common misuse of PowerPoint

As we’ve become more used to using PowerPoint we’ve become more reliant on our slides, to the point where they have become ineffective. In fact, it’s now common for people to ask for presenters to share their slides following a presentation so that they can be read. If there’s enough text on your slides for them to be read like a Word doc, you’re using Powerpoint wrong.

In an attempt to minimise the use of bullets points, following the 6×6 rule can be helpful – where you use no more than 6 words per line and no more than 6 bullets per slide – but where’s the creativity in that?

Maybe we can’t escape bullet points entirely. But the main application for PowerPoint should be visual aids to help give a presentation more impact or better engage the audience. And ultimately, achieve a decision or change in behaviour. If we really want to engage our audience, we should think about other ways to convey our message. It could be a single striking image or simply a few words on a white background. What’s the story you want to tell? What memory do you want people to go away with?

We have an innate love for stories

I’m betting you’ve heard the story of the hare and the tortoise, right? It tells the tale of a race between a speedy hare, who brags about how fast he can run, and a tortoise, who challenges him to a race. Out of this tale comes the well-known moral of the story: slow and steady wins the race.

Why is this important? It’s about storytelling. It’s about our innate love of stories and our ability to remember them, recall them, learn from them.

Stories have captivated the imagination for as long as history has been recorded. A great story keeps us turning the pages of a book, enchants children at bedtime or has us on the edge of our seats in the cinema. A great story holds our attention.

What can we learn from storytelling in business presentations?

Storytelling is something that’s happened for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Our ancestors have passed on stories that we now tell our children. How can I remember the full story of countless fairytales but I can’t remember a single bullet point from yesterday? In fact, I’m not sure that I can remember one truly outstanding bullet point from the last 30 years!

A story connects us to the person that is telling it; it forms a bond. Stories also offer a chance to establish experience, credibility and knowledge from previous companies or roles. They may illustrate a positive outcome or can serve as a warning in the way of less favourable outcomes previously.

As technology and modern culture changes and evolves, the platforms to tell or share stories are ever-changing. But the art of storytelling remains the same: it’s the ability to inspire, engage and entertain.

#5 reasons to use storytelling in presentations

Whether you use PowerPoint from a laptop and projector, interactive whiteboard, training room or video conferencing, my top 5 reasons to introduce storytelling into presentations include:

1. Don’t be a robot

Slides are there to support what you are saying; they shouldn’t be your script. Not only does it sound robotic to read from a slide, but it can also be boring for your audience when you don’t offer anything different to what’s been written. If you fear public speaking, slides can sometimes make you more nervous as you try to keep to script.

2. A picture paints a thousand words

An age-old saying but it’s so true. What images can you find to support the topic you’re presenting or to help bring an idea to life in the mind of your listeners? Can you avoid using bullet points altogether? Sometimes it may be appropriate to introduce props to help tell your story. What’s important is to think about ways to make people remember the experience.

3. Learn to tell stories

Storytelling is a more natural and engaging way to connect with people but it won’t necessarily come naturally. It will take some practice but once you’ve mastered it, you will take your audience on a journey that sparks their imagination and enthusiasm. To keep it flowing it will take some careful planning but that’s probably no different to writing pages of bullet points.

4. Engage your audience

If you’re too busy reading cue cards or, worse still, standing with your back to the audience because you’re reading from the projector screen, you’re missing vital body language signals. Are people engaged? Falling asleep? Replying to emails on their phone? If you speak to your audience and capture their attention, they won’t be looking at anything else but you.

5. Avoid emailing the slide deck

If you’ve packed your slides with bullet points, the chances are someone will ask you to send them via email after the presentation. If your slides are minimal in terms of written content, the importance shifts to what you are saying. When you’ve used storytelling to get your message across, your slides become the visual aid – exactly what PowerPoint was designed to be.

Inject some creativity into your meetings

In a business world where so many interactions are carried out online, over email or via WhatsApp, presentations can offer the opportunity to step away from reality and inject some creativity into the day.

I’d love to look forward to a presentation, knowing there’s a chance I’m going to be entertained by the speaker. We’re used to seeing engaging content on television, through sports commentary using interactive whiteboards and even on the news, where the presenters swipe their way across different screens to mix live reporting with social media activity. It’s time for the business community to take note and follow suit.

A key part of this is company culture and something that is embedded into our day-to-day working lives. For Amazon employees, they know what to expect from an executive meeting. How does your company inspire employees to be creative? Read our latest report, The Economy of People, to find new ways to approach workplace, culture and technology in order to create the optimal office. To get your copy, just fill out the form to the right (or below if you’re on mobile).

Mark Ivens

Product Marketing Manager at Ricoh UK

Read all articles by Mark Ivens