Stop using PowerPoint

9 November 2019  |  Richard Mayson

PowerPoint is a corporate life-support machine. It needs to be turned off.

If you make presentations; need to persuade people; want to be impactful and memorable in your communication, watch Jamie Oliver for a few lessons on how to do it because he does two things really well. Firstly, he knows how he wants you to feel after his presentation. And secondly, he helps you to remember it.

Specifically, I am talking about his use of visuals aids. A visual aid would be defined as anything physical or electronic you use to help enhance or illustrate your point. Jamie did a TedTalk a few years ago in the US. He trotted out a wheelbarrow full of sugar, upending it onto the stage to illustrate how many sugar cubes an average child would consume from flavoured milk during 5 years of school.

No thanks, I’m sweet enough

With thousands of sugar cubes scattered across the stage, and a small dust cloud rising from the aggressive thrust of the upending, impact and memorability was achieved.

He repeated this thumping use of visual aids on a Channel 4 programme he made called Sugar Rush. The programme was about the destructive effects diabetes (through excessive sugar) is having on our nation. He assembled a group of 20 or so Chief Executives from the high street food and beverage industry in a room.

Testament to the eye-opening nature of his programmes, my eyes were opened to the fact that severe type 2 diabetes can lead to a loss of eyesight, and limb amputations! I just didn’t know that. So what does Jamie do? He piles up 130 fake lower limbs and presents his case for a sugary drinks tax to his peers. Below is his opening statement.

“The single biggest reason for children going under general anaesthetic is multiple teeth extraction. Here is a pile of 130 plastic legs and this represents the expected amount of amputations in Britain each week, just from diabetes, 7000 a year. And it’s just not acceptable.”

Making it memorable

That is a strong opening with impact. But I would like to highlight why anyone would use any sort of visual aid in the first place: To hammer home a point and make it memorable. More often that not, if you are asked to give a business presentation, the first thing you might do is reach for PowerPoint and get started. That isn’t wrong, it is what most people do. PowerPoint is a visual aid and should come under the same scrutiny as any other visual aid. The question is; Does it enhance or illustrate my point better for the audience? Invariably, I’m afraid PowerPoint doesn’t. Let’s try an exercise. I would like you to think about all the PowerPoint presentations you have sat through that have contained word slides and bullet points. Now try and recall some of those words or bulleted lists. Thought so. You would be doing well to remember 1% of all you have seen. I am not denouncing the use of PowerPoint, it has its place. But when it comes to Impact and Memorability, words slides don’t have a leg to stand on. Lessons from Jamie:

1) Spend time considering how you want your listener(s) to feel and what they should walk away prepared to do differently.

2) If you use a visual aid, it should be to hammer home the main message and help your audience remember it.