Three Ways to Avoid Death by Powerpoint

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It is 11:00 AM and a board meeting is scheduled to discuss future plans for the company. You walk into the conference room with your teammates and you all sit down at the table. The presenter walks in and begins to set up the presentation. The projector powers on, a PowerPoint presentation flickers on the screen. You immediately think, “This presentation will boost the team’s excitement for where the organization is going.” Then the unexpected happens…the presentation becomes a nightmare. Clip Art is blurry on the screen, the font is too small to read, the colors are too bright to see, each slide has several paragraphs of information on it, and the presenter is reading every slide instead of speaking to you. You look around the room and everyone begins to sulk and slump in their chairs with remorse.


Steve Jobs said, “People who knew what they are talking about do not need PowerPoint.” It has become a common practice in modern business to use visual aid programs with our presentations. Visual aid programs such as PowerPoint and Prezi have introduced us to incredible technology to positively impact our presentations and be a helpful tool. Yet, this technology can hinder a quality presentation. Most presenters rely too heavily on PowerPoint by presenting their information as a sloppy mess or focusing their attention on the slides instead of the audience.


Here are three ways to captivate your audience and avoid the dreaded “Death by PowerPoint”:

  1. Tell a Story


Photo from Motivate Central

Storytelling can be a powerful tool when it is relevant to the topic of your presentation. Some presenters read every sentence from PowerPoint slides instead of facing their audience. Having your back towards the audience and reading all your slides will result in a disengaged audience. Instead of reading directly from the screen with your back towards the audience, try formatting your information in a story format. People love to hear a story. It captures their attention and is a simple way for them to digest the information you are sharing with them. You can amplify your stories by using pictures on PowerPoint slides for referencing or showing your audience what you are discussing. Do not make the mistake presenting with your back turned. Talk to your audience, look at them. Looking at your audience helps them see your emotions while presenting powerful stories that tie into your presentation. Here is an example of how storytelling can help amplify your point.


In the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie utilizes stories throughout his book to make a point. For example, Carnegie references Abraham Lincoln for one of his human relation principles: Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain. Carnegie references when Lincoln wrote fictitious slander about a politician named, James Shields. Shields then challenged Lincoln to a duel at Bloody Island, Missouri after reading Lincoln’s slander. When Shields and Lincoln met, Lincoln swung his weapon above Shields’ head and cut a tree branch. Bystanders were watching and encouraged the men to stop their fight, so they called a truce. Carnegie then explains that criticizing, condemning or complaining about an event or person could lead to dangerous outcomes. The utilization of merging Lincoln’s story and Carnegie’s principle can be easily understood. As an audience member, we can see how some actions may cause negative impacts due to Lincoln’s mistake. Now, as a presenter, do your best to use a story that ties into your main point. Taking your audience on a journey will improve audience engagement and information retainment.


There are presentations that dump a plethora of information on the audience. Overloading information will come across as unstructured and not tailored for the audience. Avoid making this mistake by explaining stories relevant to your presentation’s main point like Dale Carnegie did. Carnegie told structured stories of Abraham Lincoln and other credible, influential people from history to illustrate his points. Like Carnegie, there are people in the modern professional world who use stories to structure their presentations and guide their audience on a journey to a main point. You may have witnessed modern-day storytelling while watching a TED Talks video or sitting at a religious function while the pastor/priest talks. Effective speakers use storytelling because the audience is more inclined to listen and remember a presentation with an intriguing story.


Another method of storytelling is illustrating a personal encounter. Remembering events that happened to you can be easier than memorizing parts of Abraham Lincoln’s history. When explaining a personal experience, you have the ability to express an eyewitness account through strong emotions, vivid detail, and animated body language towards the audience. Certain actions and emotions can establish a strong connection with the audience and tie into the main point of the presentation. If your personal story was filled with joy, then tell a story with a big smile and express enthusiasm. If your story is sad, then say each sentence slowly and  with poise. The way you recall and tell your stories can strongly reinforce the presentation and create a wave of emotion.


Include a story when you give your next presentation. I promise that your main point of the presentation will be delivered with powerful emotion and conviction.


  1. Use an Exhibit or Prop (D.E.F.E.A.T.S)



Evidence. Defeats. Doubt. Remember those three words when creating a presentation. Let’s say it together, “Evidence Defeats Doubt.” Utilizing props or an exhibit can reinforce the value of information that is being presented so if you can, bring a prop for your presentation. Do not copy and paste an image of your prop onto the screen. Tangible objects are great examples to use that help connect the presentation’s main point with the object. When the prop is physically in your hand or on stage with you, audience members will be more prone to watch and listen to you. Having tangible evidence defeats the audience’s doubts about the presentation. Dale Carnegie Training teaches an acronym that suggests what types of evidence can amplify a presenter’s topic.


In the picture above, the word “defeats” is used as the acronym. When developing a presentation, use this acronym to help captivate your audience. D.E.F.E.A.T.S stands for:


D – Demonstrations

E – Examples

F – Facts

E – Exhibits

A – Analogies

T – Testimonials

S – Statistics


“D.E.F.E.A.T.S.” illustrates several ways to enhance a presentation. For example, if a presentation emphasized how to decrease car emissions in the air, you can use a fact that said, “According to a study by the Department of Transportation, the United States alone has 253 million vehicles on the road.” Could you imagine seeing 253 million vehicles on your nearest highway emitting fumes into the air? That would be impactful!


The Office (2009), “Stress Relief”

  1. Avoid Using ClipArt


Photo from ClipArtPanda


When the audience is viewing a slide, the images must refer to a main point of your presentation. For example, if the presentation discussed about the positives of eating healthy foods, then a slide containing a picture of a farmer harvesting corn would be appropriate. Using a blurry picture of a cartoon tomato does not make the example concrete in the audience’s mind. The importance of using “real” photos instead of stock images or clip art is what the audience needs. Most audience members have seen similar stock images used in previous presentations which may decrease the value of your presentation or receive laughs at the cheesy, cartoonish stock photos found in ClipArt.


If there is a need to use images for a presentation, use photos of your own to add a personal and unique touch by using your own camera. Snapping your own photographs guarantees that the photo is something the audience has never seen. Audience members will appreciate the authenticity and creativity when you mention capturing the image yourself. Some ClipArt pictures are not professional, especially when resizing them to appear larger because this may decrease the quality of the image.


In summary, the three ways of avoiding “Death by PowerPoint” are:


Tell a Story

Use an Exhibit or Prop (D.E.F.E.A.T.S)

Avoid Using ClipArt


First impressions are everything in the professional world. Your presentation can help your team or audience fully grasp the message you want to get across. Remember these three points to help captivate your audience and engage them in your presentation.

Blog article written by Andrew George





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