Using PowerPoint for Business Presentations – The Truth

Using PowerPoint for Business Presentations - the surprising truth

Better to let them read if you have terrible visual aids

Some research done in Germany earlier this year gives some surprising insight into the best ways of using PowerPoint for business presentations.

  1. Business presentations with poor visuals -whatever the ‘religion’ (Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, Prezi)- is better read by the audience, than talked over by the presenter. Yup.
  2. Audiences retain more from a bad presentation accompanied by silence, than one  interrupted by the guy or girl in the suit.
  3. But if you think that removing the visuals is a good idea, then wait a while. That may be better than the first option, but it’s worse for the audience than the best way – which is simple, clear visuals, supported by the spoken word. See here for a bit more on why.

In earlier posts I’ve discussed the current vogue for ‘naked’ presenting. It’s driven by 2 pieces of poor logic-

  • That PowerPoint is bad for business presentations.
  • That people prefer business presentations without it.

PowerPoint is bad for presenters in the same way that chocolate cake is bad for dieters.  Only if the lovely thing is misused, or overdone, does it become ‘bad’, and then it’s the user we should work on, not the item used.

Then there’s the point about audiences preferring ‘naked’ presenters.  Again it’s probably true where the visuals are terrible, and add nothing to the speech, but untrue in every other case, and here’s the data, and the reasoning to prove it.  Quoted from Mike Taylor’s elegantly simple blog- Why You Need Concise Powerpoint Slides « peer-reviewed by my neurons. His evidence comes from a piece of research by Christof Wecker at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany. Wecker has found-

1) The retention of oral information is lower with poor (complex) visuals than with no visuals,

2) in presentations with poor visuals, the retention of oral information was lower than the retention of information on the slides, and

3) the suppression of oral information disappears when good (concise) visuals are used instead of poor ones.

The lesson is that if your slides aren’t good, concise and clear, you’d better put everything important on them, because the audience will just ignore you as a distraction, and read the words for themselves. So to paraphrase- the holy trinity of using PowerPoint for business presentations is-

  1. If your slides are rubbish and you talk over them you’re harming the audience.
  2. If your slides are rubbish, best to shut up and answer questions as they come up.
  3. If your slides are good, say as little as you can in support of the visuals and you’ll be great.

For more on how to create great slides click here. To subscribe for regular emails and updates click here. Cheers and happy presenting – not unhappy supervised reading.


Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey

Managing Director at The Message Business
Jim is the MD of The Message Business, a company which helps FTSE 100 companies to sell themselves, and their products better. Speech writer, Prezi trainer and designer, coach and consultant, Jim also finds time to be a proud father and husband.
Jim Harvey


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