Finding Alternatives to Bad PowerPoint Slides

PowerPoint presentations are the worst.

A bad slideshow can make a good speaker less effective, and a bad speaker a tranquilizer. Many people have stories of having to sit through presentations that felt like an hour of their time was robbed from them, with nothing to show for it except a slide deck printout and heavy eyelids. If there wasn’t a problem with the computer being plugged into the projector or the clicker not working, of course.

There has to be a better way, right? Visual aids are important, and trying to present without some sort of backup is leaving a lot on the table. So, is there an alternative to the slideshows we’ve come to hate?

Presenting Software

Bad Powerpoint SlidesPowerPoint, believe it or not, is 25 years old. Microsoft’s entry into presentation development has become the Kleenex of presentation software – it’s such a presence in our lives that its competitors are referred to by the wrong name.

There have been many attempts to topple the giant, but only three stand out amongst the pack:

  • Keynote – presenting software from Apple for iOS, OSX, and iCloud used to create Apple’s famous keynote address presentations
  • Prezi – a web-based app that focuses on motion and imagery
  • Google Slides – a minimalist service that seamlessly integrates with Google products

Each one provides a different take on the same problem: creating compelling visual aids to help presenters get points across easier. You can take any of those three and make a strong case that any of them is better than PowerPoint.

However, as we often do in web design, we should take a step back and figure out the problem we’re trying to solve. When we do, we have to ask a hard question:

What if the problem isn’t the software?

Ultimately, all of these apps are just tools – it’s up to us to use them properly. Ditching PowerPoint for something flashier or more expensive won’t solve boring presentations. In fact, it may make it worse.

The only true solution for bad PowerPoint slides is…better PowerPoint slides.

Marketing author Seth Godin wrote a guide on avoiding really bad PowerPoint that should be a must-read for anybody who gives or will give a presentation. In it, he gave his five rules for a good slide deck, and it may be very different that the slide decks you are used to.

  1. No more than six words on a slide.
  2. No cheesy images.
  3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions. None.
  4. No built-in sound effects. If you use sound, make it from a high-quality source.
  5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides.

Technology investor Guy Kawasaki takes a slightly different approach with the 10/20/30 rule:

  • No more than 10 slides
  • No more than 20 minutes long
  • No text smaller than 30-point size.

This style of presentation may be different than your daily interactions with PowerPoint, but that’s the point. Our daily interactions with PowerPoint cause us to hate it. Instead of throwing the tool out, try using it in a different way. Your audience will appreciate it, and they may take what you have to say a bit more seriously.

What are some of your best presentation tips?