PowerPoint Presentations Online: NO! STOP! DON’T!!!!

(UPDATE FEB. 25, 2004: This article was highlighted in a column in ClickZ, a popular online marketing publication.)

Here is one of my major online content peeves: Why are some people compelled to put their PowerPoint slides on the Web? The vast majority of slide presentations are intended to support a live talk, and they make little or no sense out of that context!

When content is so cryptic as to be frustrating, it’s anti-content. It undermines the goals of both the author and the reader.

I would like to beg – to plead, in fact – that all presenters everywhere please refrain from ever posting another slide presentation to the Web! Unless, of course, it was designed specifically to be used on its own, perhaps as a distance-learning or customer-support tool. That’s the only time this option makes sense.

I don’t care what your boss tells you. I don’t care what all your colleagues are doing. It’s up to you to make the Web a better place. There are far better ways to make your point….

WHAT’S WRONG WITH ONLINE POWERPOINTS? The main deficiency is that most PowerPoint slides don’t clearly state the speaker’s main points. Typically, they’re designed to support the main points of a talk. When speakers want to drive home an important point, they typically accomplish that through verbal emphasis. I mean, that’s the point of giving a talk, right?

Consequently, when I look at a PowerPoint slide presentation online, I nearly always find myself asking, “What exactly are these bulleted items supposed to mean? So what?”

Here are a few classic examples of presentations I pulled randomly from the Web. Browse through them and consider how effectively they communicate key points:

BUT THE SLIDES ARE MEANT TO JOG THE MEMORY OF PEOPLE WHO ATTENDED THE TALK, RIGHT? Nope, WRONG! That’s what you might hope when you post a slide presentation to the Web. However, the reality is that on the Web, your content generally is accessible to everyone, from anywhere. Chances are that many people will be reading your slides who never heard of you and your talk, or (even worse) who wanted to attend your talk but couldn’t. Throwing maddeningly incomplete information at these groups cuts you off from potentially important audiences – and it doesn’t make you look smart or helpful, either.

Plus, cryptic slides tend to raise more questions than they answer, even for people who attended your talk! I’ve seen this time and again – I’ve attended conferences with a dizzying array of great presentations, and I want to recapture some important points that I missed in my notes. But when I look back at those slides, those great points aren’t there! It’s frustrating…

A BETTER SOLUTION: POST A SUMMARY. Slides are simply an awkward format to download and read. Why put your online audience through that hassle? Generally, it works better to post an HTML or text outline or summary of your talk.

A simple bulleted list of your most important points is all you need, with perhaps links to reference documents containing all those important numbers, charts, etc. that you think people will need.

SCREW THE SLIDES; JUST POST A GOOD HANDOUT: If you’re one of those people who tries to cram waaaaaaaayyyyyy too much information onto your presentation slides (Seriously, who’s really going to real all that stuff?) you might want to abandon your slides entirely.

Instead of creating slides that no one will read or understand, try creating a printed handout that contains an outline of your most important points, plus all your important charts and facts. Then, simply talk to your audience without slides. Finally, post your handout document online. Really – I’ve seen it done. It’s a much more effective approach, and it’s not any more work than creating a PowerPoint presentation.

14 thoughts on PowerPoint Presentations Online: NO! STOP! DON’T!!!!

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  1. I beg to differ. PowerPoint presentations DO belong on the web, and nowhere else. As I emailed Ms. Solomon, PowerPoint is good for little more than halving the impact of ideas by dividing the audience’s attention. Close your eyes during the next PPP you’re forced to endure, and if the speaker is reasonably competent, you’ll be amazed by how much more you’ll absorb, and how much more pleasantly.

    George

  2. No one hates PowerPoint more than me, but your ragging on slides doesn’t really make sense. You suggest (as an alternative) to post “an outline of your most important points, plus all your important charts and facts.” But that’s what the PowerPoint presentation is supposed to be! The speaker’s voice, in my humble opinion, is supposed to provide the color and interest to the points–not the points themselves. The key items should all be represented right there in the presentation. So in theory, you can sleep through the meeting (as so many seem to do), but if you have access to the slides, you can download them later when you’ve made it past the afternoon sugar low.

  3. Ironic isn’t it?

    The best PowerPoint presentation is one that creates images and keywords to supplement the presenter’s words. Those filled with bullet points and too much detail risk losing the audience to simply reading slides or taking notes and not listening to the speaker.

    Posting the good PP on the web is not enough information; posting the overloaded PP is trying to communicate without the speaker…

    Hey, why not use the right tool, in the right manner, for the right job?

  4. Joni Garcia commented below:

    “There is something called PowerPoint Producer, an add-in for PowerPoint 2002 and 2003 that allows you to synchronize audio, video, slides, and images. That way, you can include a video of the speaker talking to the slides…. Does this change your opinion at all?”

    No, my opinion remains unchanged. Fundamentally, I still think PowerPoint presentations don’t work well online.

    If they could be delivered with audio, and possibly video, synched up, that might help in some cases. In fact, that’s basically how a lot of “Webinars” are handled.

    Still, audio and video add a layer of technical complexity — both in terms of content preparation and delivery. And for site visitors who do not have a broadband connection or the appropriate software plug-ins, audio and video can function poorly or not at all.

    I still believe that in most cases, what’s needed is *less* complexity, not more. A good summary of the talk, along with whatever charts, photos, or other supporting materials may be necessary or helpful for the online audience, is probably the best solution in most cases. Plus, this approach is less demanding on both the author and the online audience.

    In fact, in a lot of cases it’s probably unnecessary to create slides at all! Just create a really good handout for participants, post that online, and do your talk without slides. Notes and handouts can prompt a speaker just as well, or better, than slides.

    – Amy Gahran

  5. It’s just a matter of Quality of Content. If one writes slides just as a ‘side-kick’ for the talk, there’s not an added-value in posting them on the web, is there? Unless some sync with audio or video is used, as mentioned in another comment… But if slides are made to work as a standalone as well, or at least if they carry on the author’s/speaker’s notes… i guess they’re as valuable as any other method!

  6. Amy,

    I hate to tell you this, but it’s only going to get worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it.

    There is something called PowerPoint Producer, an add-in for PowerPoint 2002 and 2003 that allows you to synchronize audio, video, slides, and images. That way, you can include a video of the speaker talking to the slides.

    http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=1B3C76D5-FC75-4F99-94BC-784919468E73&displaylang=en

    Does that change your opinion at all?

  7. I did see a very good presentation with good Power Point slides. The presenter, in addition to handing out copies of the presentation (most of which probably were lost when we traveled home) posted the slide –with some notes– on the web. It was a special page not accessable to others, something like http://www.whoever.com/11-19-02pres/ so only those who saw the presentation had access. There was a link from the sponsor organization page.

    In general, speakers with good power point presentations can easily turn the presentations into a better designed html page with the slides and notes, designed for people who did not see the presentation. I did this after a technical presentation (www.jashaw.com/pid/tutorial/). I then turned it into an e-book by adding more text, drawings, examples, etc.

    John Shaw
    http://www.controlviews.com
    http://www.jashaw.com

  8. I don’t agree that PowerPoints online are a bad idea. The audience of the website I manage benefits from many of the graphs and charts that are included in our PowerPoints. Often these files contain the meat of massive studies done in the field and that users want to know about in shortened form. Also, when you are targeting a particular group of users, PowerPoints can be useful because you are already speaking within a defined context. Our users can read the shorthand of PowerPoints that have to do with the burning issues in our industry.

  9. Edward Tufte describes printed PowerPoint reports as “physically thick and intellectually thin”.

    He urges people to distribute handouts at presentations rather than print outs of bullet points (ie slides)

    He has many excellent comments about Powerpoint in general at his website.

  10. Susan Price wrote:

    “One reason the slides don’t do the job is that they’re NOT WELL WRITTEN to begin with. If they really contained the meat of what the person was trying to say, would at least serve as a high-level outline. And where can someone who’s interested in that point go for more information?”

    …AHA! Funny you should ask! I’ll be blogging more on this topic, tomorrow, stay tuned!

    (And yes, as Susan notes, I can assist people and organizations with reformatting their PowerPoint slides into more useful and Web-friendly formats. E-mail me at amy@gahran.com.

    – Amy Gahran
    Editor, CONTENTIOUS

  11. I agree with you, but must express a couple of frustrations.

    (1) One reason the slides don’t do the job is that they’re NOT WELL WRITTEN to begin with. If they really contained the meat of what the person was trying to say, would at least serve as a high-level outline. And where can someone who’s interested in that point go for more information?

    (2) The Speaker Notes view of any powerpoint presentation could contain satisfying amounts of supporting information. But most users don’t know enough PowerPoint to get there.

    Which leads us back to Amy’s conclusion, abstract the content off there and put it into web format.

    (For extra credit, hire a qualified content expert like Amy to do that for you 🙂

  12. Three Tips for Acceptably Bad PowerPoint
    There was a href=”http://blog.contentious.com/archives/000071.html”>good post on Contentious last week about putting PowerPoint presentations on your website. The conclusion: don’t do it, and I agree. But I also try–as much as possible–to live in the…

  13. Three tips for acceptably bad PowerPoint
    There was a good post on Contentious last week about putting PowerPoint presentations on your website. The conclusion: don’t do it, and I agree. But I also try–as much as possible–to live in the real world, and I have a…