Free Live Event

Work with me



Close this search box.

An excellent tool

PowerPoint is an excellent tool to turn great ideas into confusing presentations.

Sure, it can be used to turn a great story into a great presentation. But mostly it does the opposite.

We’ve all seen it happen a little too often.

In PowerPoint, it’s easy to prioritize fluff over substance,
and cram slides with detail just because the space is there.

It’s easy to focus on aesthetics – fonts, colors, images, animations – while neglecting the foundational work of crafting a compelling, relevant story.

PowerPoint as a tool doesn’t particularly care for clarity or relevance, nor does it encourage that.

Essentially, PowerPoint is about filling slides, not telling stories.

It helps to keep that in mind when using the tool. The more we allow it to pull our attention away from the story we want to tell and direct it to filling slides, the more we risk wasting time on creating flashy but empty presentations.

Audiences don’t care nearly as much about fancy slides as you might think; they crave clear and engaging stories. If that’s with a beautifully designed slide … great, we’ll take it.

But if it’s fancy slides with a lame story, we’ll pass.
(Let alone ugly slides!)

Don’t let PowerPoint lead your process. Start with clarity, understand your audience, and build your story first. Then, use PowerPoint to amplify your message in ways that words alone can’t.

That’s how you transform a well-thought-out narrative into a powerful presentation.

Resist the urge to start with slides.

Start with the story.

Bad presentation jokes

It’s a beloved coffee break activity at conferences and in between meetings: Making fun of bad presentations.

The funniest aspect of this, though, is that the people who love to make those jokes are usually the same people who are guilty of the exact same things they are joking about.

What’s your favorite joke?

Everybody is interesting

“We believe that everybody has a story and is creative in their own way.” – Astrid Klein

Long-time reader Thomas Maile nominated Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein as leaders who light the path.

The two founders of the PechaKucha movement have changed the rules for presenting forever. In a world that was used to death by PowerPoint with presentations that seemed to run forever while leading nowhere, they established a format that has made quite an impact.

PechaKucha Nights are held everywhere across the globe giving everyone a stage and the chance to tell their story and let us in into their world.

Thomas made his nomination with these words:

“German news magazine DER SPIEGEL once called PechaKucha speakers ‘pop stars of PowerPoint’. While that’s a cute description it’s also one that doesn’t quite do justice to what PechaKucha is really about.

First (and obviously), PechaKucha is a strict presentation format: exactly 20 slides each advancing automatically to the next after exactly 20 seconds, adding to a total of 400 seconds, i.e. 6 minutes and 40 minutes. Every presentation is the same length and has the same format.

But underneath, PechaKucha is way more. By spreading across 1200 cities around the world, PechaKucha gives a stage to the unheard voices. It allows people like you and me to talk about what matters to them. That to me is the power of “EVERYBODY HAS A STORY”. PechaKucha gives the opportunity to tell it. It’s also why the Spiegel headline is not quite true. It’s not for pop stars. It’s for everyone.

Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham have done an amazing job of fostering that movement. To me, they serve as a role model for leaders who light the path.”

I couldn’t agree more to Thomas’ words. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure to chat with Astrid and Mark and they deserve every word that Thomas has said about them.

What struck me most was their deep belief that everybody is equal. In their own words: “PechaKucha is about democratizing the stage”.

It gives everyone an opportunity to speak up. It surfaces those voices that don’t consider themselves pop stars but have stories to share that are just as interesting – often even more so – than the ones that the pop stars, influencers, and gurus share.

On their freshly remade website there are a lot of gems to discover. Head over to discover some.

And then, when you come back, read the “Leaders Light the Path” manifesto and nominate someone yourself. It’s really easy.

Thoughts on outlines

In the corporate world, outlines are still pretty much mandatory at the start of a presentation. Also, they are pretty much wasted time.

Outlines have a very simple purpose: to provide peace of mind. That’s what any audience is looking for at the start of a presentation. They want to be sure that it’s safe to follow you on your journey. Or at least that it’s worthwhile. That their time is invested well listening to you.

“What is it exactly that she is going to tell us?”, i.e. an outline, is one way of providing that peace of mind. But not the only one. Another way would be to have a strong opening that makes it totally obvious: “Where is she going with this?”.

But there are others.

What’s actually more important than how you provide that peace of mind is to make sure that i) your audience trusts you that you know where you’re going with this and ii) you’ve made it obvious to them that it’s ok to trust you, i.e. that you’re leading them to some place they actually want to arrive at.

Whether that actual place is obvious from the start is secondary. Whether you mark it using an outline or other means is secondary.

What’s primary is that you need the trust that it’s worthwhile to follow you there.

Do I need slides?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: If it helps to make a stronger case than without slides, then go ahead, make slides. If not, don’t. Make it specific and repeat this question for every single slide you think about creating. Is your story stronger with that slide, then make it. If not, don’t.

What’s the ideal number of slides for a presentation?

Martin Luther King didn’t need a slide at all. Dick Hardt used 50 slides – per minute! Both used the ideal number of slides – for the story they wanted to tell on that day to that audience.

Rather than with a number of slides it’s much more useful to start with a story and then add slides as we need them. A slide is needed when it allows us to communicate something better with that slide than without it. Sometimes, we need a lot of slides, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes a slide needs a lot of time to explain, sometimes it doesn’t.

In essence, the simple (though, admittedly, not necessarily easy) answer to the question about the ideal number of slides is this: You need as many slides as you need.

“Our customers expect it that way”

I have never once in my lifetime seen any audience prefer a boring presentation over a compelling one.

And yet, people keep on defending their bullet-overloaded PowerPoint insisting that “that’s the way our customers expect it.” Almost always that’s an excuse to keep hiding behind boring, self-centered PowerPoints.

What people mean by “our customers expect that” is that they don’t trust in their story still being compelling when stripped of the PowerPoint decoration. When it looks like PowerPoint, it’s at least the way everyone does it. To paraphrase the famous IBM-quote, no one’s ever got fired for using PowerPoint. People are so used to boring PowerPoint presentations that they tolerate it.

Yet, nobody expects it. What audiences expect is that presentations don’t talk bullshit. Or lack substance, consisting of not much more than cute pictures and a few jokes.

Of course, that’s not what we mean when we say “compelling”. Compelling is not in how things look but in what things are. Substance is in the product, not in the slides. Resonance is in the story, not in the medium.

So, let me repeat: I have never once in my lifetime seen any audience prefer a boring presentation over a compelling one.

If in doubt, make it more compelling, not less. Make it stand out more, not less.

Make is less standard rather than more standard.

I guarantee you that people will appreciate you for making great use of their time.

The indifference of PowerPoint

One of the big problems with PowerPoint presentations is how they are indifferent to their content so often. The bigger the company, the bigger the problem. It shows like this: Neither the presenter nor their slides provide any hint as to whether the presentation is about a trivial matter or something important. Whether it’s just pure information or a reason to celebrate.

Everything just always looks the same in that same boring corporate slide layout. Everything just always follows the same proven agenda. And everything is just always presented in the same monotonous style.

The worst part: apparently it’s just the way it is … and given the committee decision making process, there seems to be nothing you can do about it. When everything has to be approved by a number of departments and hierarchical levels, every divergence is quickly ironed out again (I mean: “what if someone doesn’t like it?”).

It’s just the way it is. Or is it?

Tell me about your strategies to navigate around the indifference of PowerPoint presentations.

Are you strong enough for PowerPoint?

… because you need to be strong to use PowerPoint in a meaningful way.

PowerPoint can turn a great story into a great presentation. But more often than not it does just the opposite. It’s a tool to turn great content into confusing presentations.

PowerPoint invites us to skip clarity and fill slides instead. When we fire up the app, the screen basically says: let’s go and start to write everything that comes to your mind onto a slide. Making bad things worse, we recall having done just that quite recently, so we go hunting for slides that we’ve already got from previous presentations.

PowerPoint doesn’t care the least bit whether, at this point, we already have an understanding of who will be sitting in front of us, why she will be sitting there and what matters to her. PowerPoint favours quantity over quality.

PowerPoint also invites us to set the wrong priorities. When the slides start to fill up, there are all sorts of buttons waiting for us to go looking for fonts, choosing colors, drawing diagrams, designing animations, moving slides etc.

PowerPoint doesn’t care the least bit whether, at this point, we’ve already nailed our storyline, which slides we actually need to make our point and what these slides need to convey in order to make the point. PowerPoint favours “that looks good” over “that’s interesting, relevant and exciting”.

In fact, PowerPoint is happy to eat up all of our preparation time with filling slides and tinkering with the design. After all, a lot of carefully crafted slides look like you’ve worked a lot and achieved a lot – while clarity in your thinking isn’t visible at all from the outside.

Yet, audiences prefer a clear story over confusing slides every single time. PowerPoint will not help you find that clarity. It wants you to make slides. And more of them. And more. You’ll need clarity before you fire up PowerPoint. Without clarity, it’s quite likely that a lot of the time you spend in PowerPoint is just wasted. I’m even willing to take a bet that the earlier you start using PowerPoint in the process of creating a presentation, the greater the risk of wasting time.

But if you are strong enough to resist. If you answer the important questions before firing up PowerPoint. Then it’s a great tool to turn your story into a great presentation.

Be strong! Resist PowerPoint! Start with clarity!

12 Fragen: 10. PowerPoint ist das Letzte?

Ja, das Letzte, an das Sie bei der Vortragsvorbereitung denken sollten.

Tolle Folien können gute Präsentationen zu großartigen Präsentationen machen – aber niemals retten sie eine schlechte. Also: Erst die Story, dann die Folien, die genau dazu passen (wenn Sie denn überhaupt welche brauchen).

Spread the Word

Picture of Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz