Breaking Free of Powerpoint

I finally did it. We’ve had irreconcilable differences, Powerpoint and I. So, last Friday, I moved out.

I wanted to present in a way that reflected my style. I wanted to tell a story, not create a “deck” of slides. But for so many years, I felt bound to the information exchange methodology enforced by that tyrant of business presentation, Powerpoint. Even when I knew this relationship wasn’t working out, I found myself with one foot outside the door, and the other foot inside, not quite sure how to leave.

Finally, I found a way to start over. It was really quite simple.

Instead of beginning to create the presentation in Powerpoint, I put it to the side. Instead, on one screen, using Word, I started crafting the outline of the story. Scribbling, moving things around, totally unconcerned with format – just writing a script. Imagining myself in front, saying what I wanted to say irrespective of any slides as delivery vehicle.

I’m the delivery vehicle. The story is the presentation. That’s primary.

Then, on the other screen, a series of blank Powerpoint slides. On them, finding and pasting pictures that go with the story. Background. Presentation decoration. No text, because that’s in the script.

Powerpoint as illustration/analogy vehicle. Eye candy. It’s secondary.

Crossing this important mental barrier: If someone is going to ask, “Can I get a copy of your slide deck?”, I’ll just smile inside and say, “Nope.” Because the slide deck is not the presentation or the story. It’s a series of storytelling props.

I’ve seen this done effectively by others, and finally, I decided I’d break free last week (at Social Media Masters 2011). I think the picture above by Bob Knorpp (@thebeancast) wonderfully captures how much fun it was to present, free of PPT Tyranny (that’s me awarding Sam Fiorella his favorite social reinforcement, Klout points!)

There are magicians of public speaking/storytelling/presentation – Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs. They all seem to break free of the information-dump style and tell stories wonderfully. Watch videos of these masters (or see them live if you can). Their examples have fueled my desire to “think different” about presenting!

So, are you breaking free from Powerpoint tyranny? If so, what are your methods? Let’s figure out ways to turn presentations into engaging stories instead of public data dumps!

Kudos to the Social Media Masters team (Kristie Wells, Chris Heuer, Sam Fiorella, Brandie McCallum, and others) for putting on an educational conference focusing on advanced themes – there’s still time to sign up for the Toronto and Kansas City events in October!

P.S. Bob Knorpp also captured this brief video beancast interview touching on some of the themes of my presentation, which focused on the future of digital networks/social media.


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

10 Responses to Breaking Free of Powerpoint

  1. Well done on making the break. My preferred method is to story board in outline mode in powerpoint, and then have each slide with an image and a single headline. It’s a variation of the method used by Cliff Atkinson in his book Beyond Bullets.

    There are times when I have to use powerpoint in its traditional format – internal company requirements – but if I’m ever truly “presenting”, then words, bullets and graphs don’t do it for me.

    I’ve also used Pecha Kucha successfully in the past – requires a bit of time, but can have quite an impact (wrote about that experience here:

    Finally, the presentation zen books are also well worth a read.

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  3. Well done, Steve! The deck should be there to support your story, not tell it. As you said, it’s about the presenter’s ability to tell a story, and make an idea resonate with the audience. If someone can look at your deck and ‘get’ all they need from your presentation, then you have woefully failed as a speaker.

    Great reminder, Steve!

    • Mack – if the slide deck tells the whole story, then the presenter isn’t necessary – and a far better way to do information delivery in that case is a white paper. IMO.

  4. I came to the sames conclusion as you a while back, when I stopped forcing the ppt slides. When we tell stories we connect and inform and isn’t that what is all about? I would add that when it is time to get to work, I have learned that leveraging a whiteboard either in person or virtually is more compelling for your audience than any ppt can be. “Whiteboarding” shows a confidence and deep understanding of your content that no other approach can.

    I recent wrote about how and why I use these other presentation strategies over PPT here

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post. I can’t wait to try some of your ideas in my own presentations!

  5. Kevin Dugan says:

    Great approach. Simple = powerful.

    We all know people who use powerpoint as a crutch. Some perhaps unintentionally.

    Awhile back I finally realized that the common thread across the best presentations are the ones where you the mechanism/software used to present is invisible. It never crosses your mind — from the best use of prezi (cool!) to the worst abuse of powerpoint.

    I’ve also printed (yes, printed) out decks and spread them out on a table/wall/floor. Visually seeing this allows you to spot areas that don’t work and even better slides you can eliminate.

    It occurs to me powerpoint templates fall into my “eschew automation” argument. They’re akin to the auto-invitation message from LinkedIn. They mean well and are intended to help you use the software/platform. But instead of helping you stand out, they help you blend in.

    Thanks Steve!

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  7. Steve – I highly, highly, highly recommend if you haven;t already heard of it. It will fit right in with the method you deployed and will actually give tips and tricks for how to tell the story…. It’s been a while since I’ve read (I had an older version), but to summarize what I remember: Use the long prove storytelling devices that helped so many great writers tell great stories. Break down the story into protagonists and antagonists, into three one act plays and a denouement that helps the audience pick up the action and ride home to the conclusion you wish them to.

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