Beautiful PowerPoints Are a Waste of Time
And studies from Harvard and University of NSW have proved it.
Some years ago, I attended a pitch competition in Taipei. Prezi, the funky presentation software that uses a presentation format called ‘zoomable user interfaces’ (ZUIs) was all the rage. All the contestants were using it in one way or another, in addition to good old PowerPoint slides.
The chap who won last year was among the audience. He gave comments and pointers to this year’s contestants at the end of each pitch with an air of confidence.
“Everything in life is a pitch,” he proudly declared. “You’ve gotta to be good at pitching.”
Somewhat true. It helps tremendously in life to be able to sell yourself. And using engaging visuals certainly helps.
But I think in recent years too much emphasis has been put on snazzy presentation slides — in both the startup and corporate world. It is a waste of time and elicits a deluded sense of accomplishment.
In my opinion, time is better spent on creating revenue, improving products, doing customer research, or building relationships. A cool and professional presentation impresses, but it doesn’t close the sale.
Sure, a corporate presentation needs to be reasonably professional looking. Something shabby reeks of disrespect and lack of preparation.
But to spend days and days doing up a colorful pile of slides with funky animation or photoshopped images? Unconstructive, to say the least…
Am I being awfully biased without scientific basis? Well, a study conducted by Harvard in 2017 agrees with me.
It did a double blind experiment and found that online audiences rated presentations with PowerPoint slides no better than ones delivered verbally with no visual aids.
— “Harvard Just Discovered that PowerPoint is Worse Than Useless”, Inc.
In fact, even further back in 2007, Professor John Sweller from the University of NSW in Australia did a study that found that “it is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time.”
Therefore, if you are repeating the bullet points on your slides, your audience is even less likely to absorb the information well.
“It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.”
— Professor John Sweller, psychologist and inventor of the Cognitive Load Theory.
He also found that the human brain’s short term memory can only focused on two to three things at a time. So if your presentation slides are too cluttered or distracting, the message is likely to be lost.
Prettier slides do not lead to better quality information or analysis. However, organizing information well is essential to a good presentation. Good — but not overly busy — infographics do help a lot.
Management should advocate presentations that are simple, informational and well organised. The focus of employees should be on execution and getting the job done, not spending many hours doing up nice PowerPoint presentations to impress the boss.
“Brevity is the soul of wit”
— William Shakespeare
There is one exception though. If you are an advertising or design agency going into a pitch to impress your client, then due to the very nature of what you’re selling, your presentation had better be cool.
If you’re a startup, most seasoned investors have seen it all — the tips and tricks that can be pulled on slides. Believe me, great PowerPoint skills don’t factor into their investment decisions.
In fact, long presentations put them to sleep. They have to go through stacks almost every day. Legend has it that Jeff Bezos, Jack Dorsey and Mark Cuban hates PowerPoint presentations.
Stay succinct. Stick to the key messages and numbers.
And oh, by the way. The guy that won the pitch competition; his idea never got funded.