Audiences Revolt Against PowerPoint: by Jerry Weissman

Friday, April 17, 2015
posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 4:00 AM IST



After suffering endless hours of torment enduring encyclopedic slideshows, long-suffering audience are trying to find new ways to defend themselves. Their two well-established forms of expressing displeasure with such excess—interrupting the presenter and turning on mobile devices—have failed to stem the tsunami of what has become known as “Death by PowerPoint.”

One new approach is “PowerPoint Karaoke.” The Wall Street Journal reported that some corporations now organize events at which employees are asked to gather a set of irrelevant slides and ad lib a comic narrative. Although these occasions are intended to disparage excessive slideware, they serve only as entertainment because the mockery does not address the problem directly.

A more direct attack was devised by Katherine W., a prominent San Francisco attorney, who prefers to remain anonymous for reasons you’ll see in a moment. Katherine attended a legal conference and sat in the front row of a breakout session given by a distinguished scholar from a prestigious law school. The academic displayed a slide crammed edge-to-edge with several stacked text boxes, each box a different glaring color, and each filled with innumerable words in miniscule 8-point font. After futilely squinting at the projection screen, Katherine pulled out her iPad, snapped a photo of the slide, and then looked down to enlarge the image. When she looked up again, she saw that the professor had stopped speaking and was glowering angrily at her.

An even more aggressive approach comes from George D., a senior vice president of sales at a major Silicon Valley biotech company, who also wants anonymity to protect his reputation. George makes a practice of reviewing his sales team’s presentations just before the launch of a new product. Whenever they put up a dense slide, George pulls out a laser pen and sweeps the red dot back and forth across the projection screen.

The best defense of all is practiced by influential venture capitalist Vinod Khosla with his famous five-second rule. In a prior Forbes blog, I described how, during presentations that are delivered by people who are soliciting him to invest millions of dollars, Mr. Khosla looks at each slide for five seconds, and then looks away. If he understands the slide at that glance, he looks back at the screen; if not, the presentation–and any possibility of an investment—grinds to a screeching halt.

As military strategists and football coaches are often quoted as saying, the best defense is a good offense.

Jerry WeissmanThis blog post by Jerry Weissman was first published on his site at Forbes. He has written five books on presentation skills. His most recent, Winning Strategies for Power Presentations, published by Pearson, is available now from Amazon.

Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intuit, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, RingCentral, Mobileye, OnDeck, CyberArk and many others.

Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco IPO road show. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco’s Board of Directors, attributed “at least two to three dollars” of the offering price to Jerry’s coaching. That endorsement led to more than 600 other IPO road show presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market.

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