Why everything you thought you knew about PowerPoint is false
Prepare to have your mind blown.
It’s June 2015 and I’m hidden behind a giant iMac screen browsing for jobs. I see a Junior PowerPoint Designer advert and think “PowerPoint? The Microsoft software built into PCs (ew) that I last used in primary school presenting the lifecycle of a frog? The retro programme where clip art and bullet points live with ridiculous ‘curtain’ transitions and hideous smart-art of nightmares?”
So, I applied.
And four years later, I’m a changed person. Not just because I haven’t opened my MacBook for several years, but also because I realised that PowerPoint is a timeless and precious gem. In the corporate world, to business-minded people, PowerPoint is that friendly face you see at a party full of intimidating Adobe software. Of course, as a designer, I love InDesign and Photoshop, I get along with Illustrator and have been recently acquainted with AdobeXD. I wouldn’t be where I was now without them. But PowerPoint speaks everyone’s language, from teachers at the front of classrooms, to CEOs at conferences, sales teams working their pitches, and property developers showcasing their portfolios. It’s such an easily accessible, practical software that I honestly don’t believe it can or should ever be replaced.
I recently read an article titled ‘Harvard Just Discovered that PowerPoint is Worse Than Useless’, a lovely read explaining a study that ‘proves’ the software is of no aid to audiences and as a speaker you don’t need one. Which I wholeheartedly agree with… in terms of what most people know as a PowerPoint presentation. That being a slide full of bullet points scattered over a white square, charts so small the data may well not exist, topped off with a low-res iStock image of a woman grinning enthusiastically in a beige suit, poking a stick at a Venn diagram. No, you do not need that. At all. Ever again.
What you do need are slides packed with intrigue, that keep the audience listening but eyes forward focusing on the screen, making their own connection between the words being spoken and the visuals on the slide – therefore always thinking about the topic. Not squinted glances at the 10pt font, thinking about what’s for dinner.
The article also states that “people make and present a mind-boggling 30 million PowerPoints every day.” So doesn’t that prove just how useful it is? Those people aren’t simply making them for fun. To speakers I imagine PowerPoint as their personal wing man, a chance to visually enhance what they are talking about, back it up with evidence, show examples, or just make it less nerve-wracking having a hundred eyes on them.
So, we know that PowerPoint is favoured, it’s useful, and it isn’t going away. The real opportunity on the table is knowing how to break the typical PowerPoint mould. And it’s certainly achievable when you delve deeper and discover how versatile the software is; not all placeholders have to be square, bullet points don’t have to tag along with every sentence and God no, you don’t use have to use comic sans. Instead, you can add kerning and tracking to your company’s bespoke font. You can make brush effect image masks. You can zoom into complex graphs for more detail or pan across a timeline. You can do as much as Mr Adobe offers and then some, but without drowning in a sea of layers.
As PowerPoint experts, that’s what my colleagues and I do – we happily help rid the world of the misconception and save the brain cells of bored audiences, repairing those ugly slides one creative transformation at a time. We also enlighten users, by giving them bespoke cued templates and pre-designed slides, so that they can continuously replicate what we first put in motion, without having to start all on their own.
So why do I, as well as all our clients who want their work delivered as .pptx, disagree with Harvard’s article? Because as a designer I know its capabilities, and as businesspeople, my clients feel safe with it. PowerPoint gets more than its fair share of bad press, but it’s not the software that is to blame, and we can’t blame all the users either – they can’t be experts in their field and designers too. PowerPoint presentations can and should be beautiful, interactive and intriguing. It’s not a distant dream, it’s real and it’s possible. So the next time you need to put together a presentation, click around a bit more to discover exactly what the software can do, and don’t just abuse what’s on the surface. Or alternatively, send your slides over to us and we’ll happily take care of this for you.