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PowerPoint Presentations Online: No! Stop! Don’t!

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Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the CONTENTIOUS blog. It is republished with permission.

Here is one of my major online content peeves: why are some people compelled to put their PowerPoint slides on the Web? The vast majority of slide presentations are intended to support a live talk, and they make little or no sense out of that context!

When content is so cryptic as to be frustrating, it's anti-content. It undermines the goals of both the author and the reader.

I would like to beg—to plead—that all presenters everywhere please refrain from ever posting another slide presentation to the Web! Unless, of course, it was designed specifically to be used on its own, perhaps as a distance-learning or customer-support tool. That's the only time this option makes sense.

I don't care what your boss tells you. I don't care what all your colleagues are doing. It's up to you to make the Web a better place. There are far better ways to make your point….


What's wrong with online PowerPoints?

The main deficiency is that most PowerPoint slides don't clearly state the speaker's main points. Typically, they're designed to support the main points of a talk. When speakers want to drive home an important point, they typically accomplish that through verbal emphasis. I mean, that's the point of giving a talk, right?

Consequently, when I look at a PowerPoint slide presentation online, I nearly always find myself asking, “What exactly are these bulleted items supposed to mean? So what?”

Here are a few classic examples of presentations I pulled randomly from the Web. Browse through them and consider how effectively they communicate key points:

But the slides are meant to jog the memory of people who attended the talk, right?

Nope, WRONG! That's what you might hope when you post a slide presentation to the Web.

However, the reality is that on the Web your content generally is accessible to everyone, from anywhere. Chances are that many people will be reading your slides who never heard of you and your talk or (even worse) who wanted to attend your talk but couldn't. Throwing maddeningly incomplete information at these groups cuts you off from potentially important audiences—and it doesn't make you look smart or helpful, either.

Plus, cryptic slides tend to raise more questions than they answer, even for people who attended your talk.

I've seen this time and again—I've attended conferences with a dizzying array of great presentations, and I want to recapture some important points that I missed in my notes. But when I look back at those slides, those great points aren't there! It's frustrating….

A better solution: post a summary or good handout

Slides are simply an awkward format to download and read. Why put your online audience through that hassle? Generally, it works better to post an HTML or text outline or summary of your talk.

A simple bulleted list of your most important points is all you need, with perhaps links to reference documents containing all those important numbers, charts, etc. that you think people will need.

If you're one of those people who tries to cram waaay too much information onto your presentation slides (Seriously, who's really going to read all that stuff?) you might want to abandon your slides entirely.

Instead of creating slides that no one will read or understand, try creating a printed handout that contains an outline of your most important points, plus all your important charts and facts. Then, simply talk to your audience without slides. Finally, post your handout document online. Really—I've seen it done. It's a much more effective approach, and it's not any more work than creating a PowerPoint presentation.


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Amy Gahran is an editorial consultant, journalist and writing trainer/coach based in Boulder, Colorado. She helps people and organizations communicate effectively online and in print. For more info, see gahran.com. She also publishes the CONTENTIOUS blog, which offers news and musings on how we communicate in the online age.

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