Powerpoint Hell

I just returned from Hong Kong where my schedule coincided with Design Week. I attended the first day of the “Business of Design” conference. Now, it’s easy to be critical - so I will be…

The conference presentations were delivered by Chinese/Hong Kong; French (co-sponsors); and Americans. All of them used Powerpoint to deliver their visuals and nearly every presentation went down in flames because they entered “Powerpoint Hell” for one reason or another. One was so bad that I walked out as versus watching him bumble through a visually-crippled design presentation. Most of his presentation utilized slides with animations - and none of them worked!! The dependency on the technology of Powerpoint was unnerving to both the presenters and his/her audience. It wasn’t the fault of the organizers because each presenter used their own laptops to guarantee that everything worked. The only problem was they didn’t work. In front of a very large audience.

One of the presenters looked like he was seeing his presentation for the first time. He seemed shocked that the slides were all set on auto-timer and advanced themselves after about 10 seconds! He had to return to previous slides almost 50% of the time because he wasn’t done delivering his verbal content when the slide advance.

Given the visual nature of this conference and the presentations I was fairly shocked these people had so many problems with their Powerpoint decks. I can’t point the finger at the person or the technology, but my question is: Is there a better way? Back in the day presenters used 35mm slides. Those could also get mucked-up by sticking in the projector or the bulb burning out midway through a presentation. There were also overhead slides. Not very dynamic - but highly predictable. What other dependable presentation technologies are on the horizon? Has anyone else had a “Powerpoint Hell” situation that they want to share? Any good recoveries?

Later that day I was in my favorite bookstore in HK and saw a book called “Real Leaders Don’t Do Powerpoint”.

How do we break our dependency on Powerpoint and still communicate visuals?

I always use pdf’s… Super predictable, and Adobe indesign is such a nice tool to work in.
Havent given keynote a try, and do not really feel a need for it yet. But ive seen some nice things done with it.

To me, the total disgust of powerpoint comes down to working with it, not presenting through it (never tried to though).
Its the same feeling i get from word. I guess im just not a big fan of these kinds of programs. I usuall also write my papers in InDesign.

Im trying to get my GF to use other programs than pp. No luck yet, but atleast shes starting to convert to Pages instead of word, she admitted that it gave her a lot less hassle during layout, and aproximately equally much when switching between computers (friends who use Word, etc)

Agreed 100%, PP is terrible. From a completely horrible UI that makes it difficult to do easy things (like putting objects infront or behind things), to gross transitions and fonts, no easy way to use grids and normal layout devices and poor handling of type, fonts and the like, it’s a disaster. Also the whole compatibility thing…

I also use InDesign for presentations and PDFs for showing them. Works 100% of the time and you can even add fade in/out transitions if you have a full version of Acrobat. I also like how using ID makes it easy to make print versions as well.

I once heard the maxim -

Friends don’t let Friends use PowerPoint.

Given you were at a Design conference I am actually surprised at the use of PP and poor transitions and the like. I’d expect more from designers. maybe a business conference, but design? Sad.

What I’d really like to do is have someway to beam via IR or Bluetooth a presentation from my iPhone. I know there are apps that let you control a PP presentation from it, but it would be great not to have to even carry a computer or USB key and rely on that. Maybe when we all get pico projectors in our phone, someday…


Sadly I think in the corporate world you are often stuck with powerpoint. Most of our powerpoint documents are not only distributed (which PDF is ideal for) but then re-edited, graphics lifted, etc for other divisions like engineering and marketing. Those people have no ability to use Acrobat/Indesign so we need to keep our presentations in the most portable format.

It is the worlds most awful application, made worse by the fact that we still use version 2003 (vs the updated 2007) which means some of my gripes may have been fixed. My personal favorite is when you have a block of text in Font A, Size X, and when you paste it somewhere else it somehow always manages to become something totally different. It doesn’t revert to my slide master, it doesn’t revert to the default, just kind of does it’s own thing every single time.

Luckily you can go to “Paste Special->Formatted Text” but somehow that;s not the default, nor is it a keyboard short cut. Which makes me want to murder half of the Microsoft development team.

I usually use this for presentations

Prezi to my experience is worse than powerpoint. Sure it looks impressive when it’s demoed, but so far I haven’t encountered any one able to use it in a sensible way. It’s like watching a roller coast ride! Give people less effects to play with and they will focus on presenting the content instead instead of playing with the tool they’re using to present. PDF please :slight_smile:

Another thing with Prezi is it seems there’s always some tinkering required to make it run, causing a delay.

I also prefer to use indesign for organization/layout with an output to PDF for print, email, presentation. I think that aside from the ease of use reasons mentioned here, I like distributing work in PDFs because most corporate people CAN’T edit them. Whenever I’ve had to send out a powerpoint deck for something, it always comes back to me completely f’d- different formatting, fonts, things added, subtracted. I’ve received old PDFs that have made the rounds from years ago that are just like I sent them.

I also love being able to save 1 document and use it as a presentation, then hand it over to the client when I’m done. They can print it, email it, whatever and I don’t worry about anything getting lost or screwed up.

I love it when powerpoint is used as an encapsulation format to distribute other files. Once I was given a powerpoint document filled with excel spreadsheets… filled with photos. :exclamation:

I’m surprised that MS hasn’t seen this as an opportunity for an “office” digital document like PDF and created their own proprietary format- MDF (Microsoft Document Format, not medium density fiberboard)

Ha! It’s been a while since i was corporate, but totally forgot about that. I used to see that all the time and it always cracked me up! I’ve even had docs that were sent to me to be printed that were made in PP for some odd reason. Like a manual or something.


I had this situation once. I was doing photo-realistic renderings for some hotel room remodels in vegas. When I asked the clients to send the files of the artwork they were using, they sent me an excel document with embedded thumbnails of the pictures. They had purchased the high quality images off of iStock photo but only gave me some 50 pixel wide thumbnails embedded in the excel document to work with. I couldn’t believe it.

I still want to give this a try:

They did that at this years IDSA national conference. And other of a few brief moments of inside joke poking amusement it was one of the lamest things ever.

I think the main crime is that since so many people use powerpoint for handouts and reading packets, they translate that same approach to visual projector group presentations and it’s ridiculously uninformative and meaningless.

Haha, I can only imagine…alcohol, I think, would make this more entertaining…

Probably true. Everyone was sober at that point and they used it as filler between talks…nothing like taking less than amusing content and sandwiching it in between more less than amusing content to an audience who is already tired and bored.

That really depends on how well versed you are with Prezi. I made that mistake with the rollercoaster effect early on in a few presentations. My solution was to extend the time I stay on each element and not click through elements quickly. I also try not to set any elements greater than 45 degree angles in relation to the previous element. This helps to reduce that effect.

As for the tinkering. I use the desktop editor and I always export my presentations and run them from my desktop. I only use the website itself to store my presentations. As a result, I’ve never had any problems, it even works with most presentation clickers.

Here’s a recent one I did. http://prezi.com/blehvqzcnqej/ Obviously, don’t click through it stupid fast and you won’t get the dreaded “rollercoaster effect”.

I prefer Prezi because it can show the depth of work involved as well as relationships of that data as it’s being presented. I do admit, that it does take a little more brainpower to come up with a sucessful format. I find myself improving my layouts each time and in effect optimizing the actual material I am presenting.

I completely agree with you all that some peoples attempts at using PowerPoint are awful, in fact some peoples use of the MS Office suite in general is pretty horrific as I’ve seen even larger companies that should know better using default images found in clip art as their corporate logos.

However, I think that to completely write off powerpoint entirely is perhaps undeserved. The golden rule of presentations has always been to keep them simple so as not to distract from the focus of the presentation… you and what you are saying.

Poor preparation and overestimating their own knowledge of powerpoint is obviously to blame in this case.

I quite happily use powerpoint to make professional presentations by not using animations, or timings, no slide transition effects other than maybe fade. I find automated timings are also a bad idea unless its a static presentation. Using slide masters is also useful.

If I need a fancy graphic, I’ll make it in a piece of software designed for fancy graphics, and then save and import to powerpoint.

The other golden rule is also of course to rehearse your presentation.

Personally, I think to really put the icing on your presentation cake, you should save the presentation as a powerpoint show file rather than a regular powerpoint file; you only have to open the file and it goes straight into the presentation. No faffing about opening powerpoint first and spoiling the surprise.

Quick question: how many of you preferably use Macs?

I prefer using my macbook pro for presentations.
I use InDesign to make presentations and export them as a pdf. Simple and hassle free.

@Cameron: You are so correct when it comes to designers going from the printed word and illustration to the display in front of an audience.

I’ve just blogged about this with respect to the poor quality of presentations climate scientists use when discussing difficult, complex and controversial climate data, often to non-scientific audiences. They more than most need to understand that a printed paper in a scientific journal can’t be dumped into Powerpoint, with verbs removed, bullet points added, and charts cut-and-pasted.

I invite you and readers to view my blog entry entitled: “Climate scientists head to Copenhagen armed with their Powerpoint stacks, unwittingly their own worst enemies for conveying complex ideas. And Al Gore can share in the blame even if he does use Apple’s Keynote…”

Here: Climate scientists head to Copenhagen armed with their Powerpoint stacks, unwittingly their own worst enemies for conveying complex ideas. And Al Gore can share in the blame even if he does use Apple’s Keynote… | Les Posen's Presentation Magic


Les Posen

Boosted561, the warren buffet presentation you linked was good, but your Implementation of RFID almost gave me a headache :S way to much spinning.

I will try prezi for my next school presentation but i will remember to only side scroll and no rotation with minimal zooming, no point presenting if your audience is being ill in the bathroom :laughing:

As for the PDF formats, can you present them slide by slide ? I have never seen that before

Question about prezi

Do you guys have the free account ?
To work offline or have a decent amount of storage you have to upgrade, and all the accounts are insanely expensive. I highly doubt students would shell out that much for a fancy powerpoint.

What do you guys thing of the pricing ?
I think they should do a one-time-payment option for the offline version.