Are You Upstaged by PowerPoint?

By July 28, 2009March 30th, 2020SpeakerNotes

nervous womanWhat type of PowerPoint user are you? Take this quick quiz:

  • I often read word-for-word from my slides — they’re basically my Teleprompter.
  • I use slides so my audience has something to look at.
  • I feel naked or unprepared without a PowerPoint.
  • I’m not really comfortable using PowerPoint, but it is a must these days.

How many boxes did you mentally check?

Visuals as a crutch

Here’s a little secret — PowerPoint’s not the villain when it comes to misusing visual aids. Whether you’re using slides, audio, video, or even good old flip charts, every type of media support should have just one goal: to help your audience connect with your message on a more visceral level.

Sure, PowerPoint’s bells and whistles can be fun, but information overload is almost guaranteed if you forget why you’re using visuals in the first place — visuals shouldn’t be a crutch, a Teleprompter, or a “requirement,” but rather a tool so listeners can more easily grasp what is being discussed.

Studies show the undeniable effectiveness of visual aids on audience retention:

  • Oral: 10%
  • Visual alone: 35 %
  • Visual and oral together: 65%

There’s no easier way to improve audience comprehension than with the right use of visual support.

Put the “power” back in PowerPoint

Visual aids are not for you; they’re for your audience. Your goal in using them is to reinforce your message and make it more memorable. But where do you begin? Try our simple, four-step “R-S-V-P™” method for success:


Ask yourself: Do each of my slides contain information or an image that is pertinent to my core message? Is every slide value-added, or are some just filler? Am I using slides as a crutch to remember my talking points?

Review your visuals with a critical eye. Cut out everything that does not support your main take-away and assist in increasing audience comprehension.


Don’t be upstaged by visual aids! YOU are the headline act; any visuals should reinforce your message, not steal the show. Listeners should be able to “glance and grasp” the information they need while still giving you their full attention.

Try this litmus test: Could you give your presentation without the supporting visuals? If the answer is no, then reconsider your approach.


Author and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki suggests what he calls the “10/20/30” rule: Your presentation should have 10 slides, for a 20 minute presentation, and contain no type smaller than thirty-point size.

Rather than a rule, we prefer the term “guideline.” Why use 10 slides if six will suffice? Regardless of quantity, every slide should be visible to the standing-room-only crowd leaning against the back wall.


vietnam memorable

Communication is about information, about knowledge. But we sometimes forget that it is also about the transfer of emotion, which allows for a more potent connection between you and your audience. One way to provoke that transfer of emotion is through the use of images.

In his article, “Really BAD PowerPoint (and how to avoid it),” author Seth Godin uses this example: You are raising funds for a program that will provide therapy to aging Vietnam veterans. Most presenters would choose a bar graph and a bunch of bullet points to sell the program. Instead, consider the impact when you simply display an iconic image of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial while telling your story.

While it’s not always easy to turn your message into images, it is these images that will trigger an emotional reaction among your audience far more readily than words. Can you somehow let an image tell part or all of your “story?”

As you can see, using the RSVP™ method makes it easy to gauge the appropriateness and impact of the visuals in your presentation.

Engaging the heart as well as the head

It takes both logic and emotion to capture the attention of an audience. With a little imagination, creativity, and the RSVP™ approach outlined above, your next set of visual aids can not only communicate your message, but also move the audience from understanding to action with the click of a slide.

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