Winning the Battle Against PowerPoint

Isn’t it time for conferences to scrap their PowerPoint templates?

Many conference organizers are actively seeking and experimenting with new session formats and innovative room sets — worthwhile quests to improve conference learning and participant value. If this describes your organization, strike while the iron is hot and stop mandating that all conference presentations use your PowerPoint template. Those templates not only limit each presenter’s creativity, they detract from the attendee learning experience. 

Your organization’s brand police won’t like this idea and will fight it tooth and nail. Use these talking points to help win them over.

1. The conference is for the attendee
Attendees know what meeting they’re at and don’t need that reminder on every slide. You’ve promised them education and learning, and you need to differentiate your approach from what’s become a stale conference standard. Branded templates actually decrease learning, mute innovation, and promote what’s known as “Death by PowerPoint” (i.e., heavy use of bullet points, lots of copy, and few images).

2. We are all visual learners.
According to Brain Rules author John Medina, vision trumps all other senses. We think in pictures. We dream in pictures. Eighty percent of the brain’s processing power is dedicated to images. Medina’s rule of thumb for presenters: You’ll get three times better recall for visual information than oral, and you’ll get six times better recall for information that’s simultaneously oral and visual. He’s not referring to clip art, but rather striking images that help a single idea or concept stick.

3. Industry presenters will thank you
Attendees can’t read, listen, and think all at the same time. Challenge and teach your presenters to create image-rich and text-light slide decks to help increase attendee learning, while polishing their presentation skills. Any use of text should have a minimum font size of 40 points or greater for ease of reading. Most presenters should eliminate 50 to 90 percent of their text to align with the brain science that says that less text is more. This is especially true with scientific and technical presentations!

Image selection is an art, and is most effective when presenters are able to incorporate compelling, unusual, or novel images. Images that support metaphors and analogies also can be highly effective. Graphs and charts should be used sparingly. Emphasize that it’s not about the numbers, it’s what the numbers mean.

Introduce your presenters to tools like Haiku Deck, Zuru, or Canva. Share how to get royalty-free, high-quality images from Flickr Creative Commons. Help them understand the science behind why image-rich presentations improve attendee learning and session value. Invest in your speakers, and they’ll pay you back by providing your attendees with a much better learning experience.

If these strategies don’t convince the powers that be to do away with a template, compromise by requiring presenters to use a template only for their title and closing slides. Fight for and protect the juicy filling in between.

If education is part of your organization’s mission, it’s wise to adopt the latest brain-science insights to create superior learning opportunities. Once you embrace the reality that we are all visual learners, it’s important that your leadership model this in their own presentations. Whether they are delivering a conference keynote, webinar, or board presentation, set the bar high by adopting image-rich slide decks. Create a library of exceptional slide presentations to point presenters to as a best practice. SlideShare is an excellent site that aggregates high-quality presentations.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.