In a 2001 article in Small Business Computing, writer Angela Garber expressed the universally negative reputation of cluttered slideshows by coining the frequently cited epithet,“Death by PowerPoint.” Given the constant disparagement of slideshows by critics, audiences, and even by presenters themselves, why would anyone continue to use them?
After all, the memorable speeches of history did not use PowerPoint:
- Cicero’s orations in the Roman Forum
- Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
- Winston Churchill’s World War II rally to arms
- Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights speech
- John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
So why, indeed, would anyone use slides? The simple answer lies in the aphorism, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Those familiar words are backed by a wide array of scientific evidence. One of the most thorough is an HP publication titled, “The Power of Visual Communication,” which cites nine learned sources and concludes that:
Recent research supports the idea that visual communication can be more powerful than verbal communication, suggesting in many instances that people learn and retain information that is presented to them visually much better than that which is only provided verbally.
Even more to the (Power) point is the opinion of Stephen M. Kosslyn, the author of Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations, a book based on his work at the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. As Dr. Kosslyn put it in one of his academic studies:
The timeworn claim that a picture is worth a thousand words is generally well-supported by empirical evidence, suggesting that diagrams and other information graphics can enhance human
cognitive capacities in a wide range of contexts and applications.
Another respected expert on visual expression was Hans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor and statistician, whose revolutionary graphical display methodology electrified his high profile TED conference and made him an instant media and talk circuit rock star. Ten thousand words would not be adequate to describe his technique, so please see it for yourself in his video on YouTube.
A New York Times article about Dr. Rosling described the impact of his graphics:
The goal of information visualization is not simply to represent millions of bits of data as illustrations. It is to prompt visceral comprehension, moments of insight that make viewers want to learn more.
In that one sentence, Dr. Rosling, his dynamic software notwithstanding, validates the primacy of the presenter over even his superb graphics. More than that, he tells you not only why, but how to use your slides.
This blog is an excerpt from my book Winning Strategies for Power Presentations published by Pearson. Also check out my newly released Presentation Trilogy—Presenting to Win, The Power Presenter, and In the Line of Fire—available on Amazon and other retailers.