Speaking Without PowerPoint

Have you ever made a presentation or pitch without PowerPoint? Then you already know the one and only tool available to you grab the attention of your audience – your words.

Here is a snippet of an interview with playwright of the Broadway play about Isaac Newton,

FLATOW: And the stage, I’ve been to that stage many times. I’ve never seen it absolutely bare to the brick. What’s the point? What was the point, for our listeners?

HNATH: You know, I have found over the past couple of years that my plays all tend to be staged on stages that are almost completely empty, and I think there’s a really practical reason why it’s got to be that way, is because the language is really dense. And I need the audience to rely as much as possible on the language for information.

And when you have a lot of set dressing, a lot of clutter, that’s also giving you information, and that’s – it’s easier to rely on the set and the dressing of the set for information than the language. The audience wants to rely on those visuals, and so by depriving them of the more easily identifiable objects onstage, I’m forcing them to really listen to the words.

The playwright gets our limited cognitive budget – grokking power. There is only so much information we can absorb and when there are many sources of information we tend to distribute our cognition, unevenly, across these sources. If you really want all their  grokking power to be spent on your key message, and write you the check at the end of your pitch, it is likely better you choose just one medium to deliver it.

And since you are the one standing up and presenting it is preferable that you deliver that in words over doing a visual slide to convey it or else you could have simply sent the slide over email and skipped your presence altogether. With words you can engage your audience in a dialog vs. with visuals which is more of a one way information exchange. (You see my decks on SlideShare are meant to be one way information exchange. I am not there to pitch the message.)

Wouldn’t it be great if we banned PowerPoint from all presentations? Think about it. Visually stunning slide decks are great but do you want to dazzle your audience with your PowerPoint skills and artistic taste or take action in your favor?

Who am I kidding? We really won’t do or allowed to do any presentation without PowerPoint.  And many times you will be asked to send over the decks before you are allowed to enter the room. So here are some ways to take advantage of the power of words and forcing audience to pay attention to your words

  1. Use the preamble– Hit the ‘b’ for blank key on the screen and do a summary of your pitch before even going into the first slide. Can you do your elevator pitch or a summary of the message of your 20-slides deck before dazzling them with spectacular visuals?
  2. Start by asking questions– Finding difficult to make a pitch with just words, start by asking them questions about the pain-points your solution is going to address. Prime their mind to the problem. With questions you are forcing them to listen and put those words to action by thinking answers for them.
  3. Use the closing remarks – Limit your prepared remarks and leave lot more time for engaging with the audience. If this is not possible, hit the ‘b’ key again and “tell them what you just told them”.
  4. Use the time between slides – Think for a second about how you transition from one slide to another. That is a precious down time (so to speak) that can be put to good use. Why not use it by hitting the ‘b’ again, telling them what to expect in the next slide then move forward?
  5. Avoid distractions on the slide – Animations, flying text, irrelevant images thrown in because you read popular  presentation books told you about use of images, too many bullets, switching back and forth, running video … and the list goes on. All those, as Hnath said, consumes grokking budget leaving little or nothing for your message.

Do you put words to good use with your audience?


One thought on “Speaking Without PowerPoint

  1. Thanks for the tips. I think most speakers (including me) use power point as a crutch, a map so to speak that guides one during the presentation. I think preparing the speech first and then creating the slides not as crutch but as visual support is the best way of creating an engaging presentation.


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