Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This is a busy slide, but...

I sit through a ton of slide presentations at work, and I've noticed an alarming trend. Being PowerPointed to death is nothing new, but lately it's reached a new level. It seems that 45 is the new 10. I swear that there used be 10 slides in the average deck. But somehow, quietly, insidiously, that number has grown to 45. Forty. Five. Slides.

What's the cause of this malevolent trend, this metastasizing cancer? Is our work getting harder, more complex? Maybe. But I think it's something else. You could call it laziness, but that's not fair -- I don't work with lazy people. It's more a lack of time. We have limited time to prepare for a slide presentation, so we don't prepare at all. We just throw every conceivable bit of information into our presentation. Every possible slide and bullet point. Every convoluted table and graph. No need to prepare a speech ahead of time if the words are there on the screen. No need to filter, edit or summarize. Let the audience sort it out.

Mark Twain once said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead" (which, oddly, is the most common search phrase leading to my blog). It's hard to narrow down a complex topic into a few salient points. Believe me, writing a decent one-page summary of my novel was one of hardest things I've ever done.

What's more, every one of those 45 slides is so overpacked with stuff, I'm surprised Microsoft can handle the file size. How many times have you heard, "I know this is a busy slide, but..."
But what? You're going to waste my time with it anyway? Instead of that minuscule chart, that unreadable text, why not put up a serene landscape, or a picture of your cat, and tell me what I need to know. At least then I'll have something nice to look at. Often, this person will continue with "the key takeaway here is..." Why not put the key takeaway on the slide?

The other day, a presenter went to so far as to project a series of emails onto the screen. This is like taking the grandaddy of business faux pas, the old "I'll-just-forward-this-ungodly-long-email-chain-and-put the accountability-on-you" move, and forcing it on an audience. One might hope for the projector to fall on a person like this.

And don't get me started on excessive adjectives and dead words. A writer soon learns that the more adjectives, the less powerful the message. Yet, apparently every slide must say "effective and efficient" at least once. Tell you what, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you don't strive for inefficient ineffectiveness. That's the kind of guy I am. I know you're trying to "promote the effective and efficient implementation of the migration"; you can save me the eye drops and write "migrate."

A presentation is supposed to be a person talking to you, trying to convince you of something. Otherwise, why not just send the document to the audience and skip the presentation altogether? Actually, this is happening more and more. I work for a global company, with ever-increasing teleconferences and web-based meetings. It's hard to grasp the key message when you can't see the presenter, can barely hear her, and besides it's so early in the morning you can't absorb it anyway, so you just read the slides later. Hence, the need for more info in the slide deck. If this trend continues, I worry that the monster slide deck will replace the very oral presentation it used to supplement.

Am I alone on this?


  1. This made me so glad I don't have a real job.

  2. This is sooo why I don't have a desk job anymore.

  3. You are right on the money. Although sometimes it is worse when the overly abundant information doesn't support the conclusion!

  4. I completely agree with you! Though, I admit I'm guilty of putting too much info on my slides. I have a hard time summarizing when everything seems important. In future, I'll run all my slides by you!

  5. Ugh, so true! What did we even do before PowerPoint? Oh yeah, we actually just had a discussion.

  6. Wow. I work in a small Architecture office. When I use PowerPoint it is to pitch a client or to give a lecture, and in those settings, the power of the slide is key. I can't imagine the hell you must go through having to sit through PowerPoint presentations on a regular basis. I am put off if I see 4 of them in a year.