STOP! Before you open up PowerPoint, read this…

PowerPoint can be a phenomenal tool to help with your next presentation. In addition to the conventional bullet pointed slides that are standard issue fare in most meetings and conferences, you can also do some cool things like create a Jeopardy board or play Family Feud through the magic of PowerPoint.

Opening PowerPoint before you’ve mapped out what you plan to do or say in your next presentation and expecting that your audience will be engaged, however, is a bit like taking out a pan and tossing a bunch of things in, expecting to have some tasty brownies come out of the oven. You may luck out on the quantities of ingredients and the amount of time it will take to bake… but chances are your audience will smile politely to your face and then spit out whatever you tried to force-feed them into their napkins when your back is turned.

Last week, several colleagues attended ATD’s TechKnowledge conference and I was surprised to hear how many presentations failed to meet expectations. Following is an exchange I had via text message with a co-worker:


Curious as to whether others felt this way, I took to Twitter to ask for some thoughts. This was a segment of a conversation I had with another attendee:

To be fair, I heard some very good things about a number of presentations. Unfortunately, there seem to be too many presentations that aren’t up to snuff – whether at large conferences like TechKnowledge, or in smaller, more intimate settings like an in-house training program or a staff meeting. This is unfortunate because any time a presenter gets in front of an audience, he or she has the opportunity to change the world by helping the audience do something new or differently or better. You don’t need to be a high-paid keynote speaker in order to change the world!

There are many reasons that a presentation can flop. One of the most common is when a presenter just doesn’t take the time to be intentional about the way he or she designs a presentation. Too often the default mode for presentation planning is to open PowerPoint and begin to fill in slides.

Over 17 years of designing presentations, I’ve found the most effective, engaging presenters map out what they want to say, how long they want to say it, and specific methods of how they plan to engage their audience – in discussion, in brainstorming, in demonstrations or role plays or individual work – and then they decide what kind of visual aids they’ll use. At this point, I’ve seen many presenters decide creating a PowerPoint deck isn’t even necessary.

If you’re looking for a way to be more intentional about how you map out your next presentation, click here to download a presentation planning template that I’ve found to be very helpful in organizing my thoughts before a presentation.

Presentation Planner 2015

Know someone who might benefit from a presentation plan? Go ahead and pass this article along to them.

Looking For Beta Testers

Organizing your thoughts with a Word document is a good start. I’m envisioning a world in which we can leverage technology in order to organize our thoughts better and eventually rid this world of the scourge of poorly designed and delivered presentations for once and for all.

Want to help? I’m looking for a small group of beta testers for an online presentation planning tool. If you’re interested, please email me at Your feedback could go a long way toward advancing the vision that every presentation will be engaging and lead to change.


3 thoughts on “STOP! Before you open up PowerPoint, read this…

  1. Hi Brian! Maybe I was lucky to have chosen well on the sessions I attended but I didn’t see many “Death by PPT” sessions. (I’ve yet to walk through the materials of other sessions I didn’t attend) And I agree that hallway conversations and the connections with people are the best thing about these types of conferences.

    As for planning presentations, I’ve found Cliff Atkinson’s book, Beyond Bullet Points and his planning template to be very helpful. If you haven’t seen it, it is definitely worth a look. Might help you with this.

    I’m looking forward to see how this turns out. Great idea!!

    • Hi Mike!

      Thanks for the note. In fact, I heard some good things about your session!

      I also noticed you qualified your comment (“…I didn’t see *many* ‘Death by PPT’ sessions”). I’d contend that a session full of learning professionals – both in the audience as well as the core of the faculty, should *never* have a death by PPT session.

      I definitely want to check out the Cliff Atkinson book (thanks for the recommendation). It sounds like people walked out of some sessions thinking: “That was interesting” (I’m looking at you, puppet show presenters), and at the same time I wonder how much people will retain/apply when they go back to their desks.

      I’m a big fan of following the bright spots. Are you feeling particularly motivated to do anything new or differently or better as a result of any of the sessions you attended? If so, what did the presenter(s) do in order to fire you up about an idea?

      • Ha! It’s good to know that the money I paid for people to say good things is working 😎 I agree that DByPP shouldn’t be found in that environment. Most of the sessions I went to was to see the speaker instead of to hear about the topic. I did pick up several great speaking /facilitation ideas and caught part of a fantastic session on project mgt tools. She did a great analogy btw PM and evaluating a medical patient. BEST PM SESSION EVER! 😎 (That might not be a high bar, but it was really great.)

        Also a couple of conversations have me eager to try a few new things of course.

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