Death by PowerPoint

What is it?

Death by PowerPoint is the slightly apocalyptic name given to poorly thought out PowerPoint presentations by Angela R Garber. The phrase has become popular throughout the business world, as office workers are all too familiar with the effects.

A high proportion of PowerPoint presentations are terrible. The slides are stuffed with words in tiny font sizes that fly in from every direction. The presenter shuffles their feet at the front of the room and proceeds to read out exactly what’s written on the slides. Bored audience members play buzzword bingo.

Overexposure to this kind of torture has caused many office workers to dread watching presentations, which is a real shame as well prepared presentations can be entertaining and useful.

Why does it happen?

PowerPoint makes it easy to quickly put together a slide show containing information that needs to be passed on. An unfortunate side effect is that’s exactly what people do – Take the easy route. It’s much quicker to throw some PowerPoint slides together the night before than it is to plan a proper presentation. Sadly this is what’s expected in many organisations, and it takes place thousands of times every day. The reality is that these types of presentation might as well take place in empty rooms because nobody will care!

It’s now got to the stage where it has become acceptable practice to present in this way – The result of this is that many people have never seen a good PowerPoint presentation. If all you’ve ever seen is the type of presentation described above, how would you know that there’s a better way? Even if it occurred to you what would be the incentive to put in extra work? The cycle of Death by PowerPoint presentations perpetuates itself!

A common mistake with PowerPoint presentations is to assume that animations and fancy slide transitions add interest. Unfortunately research suggests that the opposite is true – Spectators find them distracting, which causes them to lose the thread of the presentation and get bored.


I thought it would help to include some videos which demonstrate the Death by PowerPoint issue. Firstly we have Don McMillan demonstrating what you should never do!

Now we have a cut down version of David Phillips’ excellent seminar – David is a wonderful presenter and this video give a lot of solid advice. If you take this advice to heart you’ll be a long way towards avoiding Death by PowerPoint!


PowerPoint is by far the most widely used presentation software, with well over 90% of the market share. Current estimates suggest that various versions of PowerPoint are installed on over a billion computers around the world. The result of this is that approximately 350 PowerPoint presentations take place globally every second.

The software has become very popular in the military because it helps officers to deliver mission briefings. Unfortunately the high proportion of poor quality presentations has led to several high ranking US officers, such as Brigadier-General Herbert McMaster, banning the use of PowerPoint in their operations!

For more help with public speaking and to present confidently in any situation go to

How to avoid it

Avoiding Death by PowerPoint is simple, but I’m afraid you might not like it! In order to give a good PowerPoint presentation, you need to start with a good presentation. Plan as though you weren’t going to be using PowerPoint – In fact it’s probably best if you assume you really aren’t going to use it.

Got your presentation planned? Good. Now learn it, with prompt cards if you like, and practice presenting it. If you’re used to public speaking you might only have to do this a couple of times before you’re happy, but it can take much more effort. Don’t panic if the first few times you have to practice a lot – With time and experience you’ll get much better at it, and I guarantee that this approach is a thousand times better than Death by PowerPoint.

I’ve never had a huge issue with public speaking myself, but I do have a very vivid memory from my childhood that you might relate to. When I was about 12 years old my mother had to give a presentation at work. She was terrified! She’d never done any real public speaking before, and now she had to present to several senior managers. Her solution was to practice over and over again – I must have heard that presentation over a dozen times in the week running up to judgement day, and I’d be surprised if I was there for 10% of her practice.

These days my mother can present at a moments notice, even with no preparation and no PowerPoint slides. So believe in yourself, you can do it too! If you see yourself in the example I’ve just given, you’re not alone. Most people hate public speaking, but with a bit of practice and experience it can be overcome.

Part of the issue with PowerPoint presentations is that people tend to hide behind them. It’s easy to throw a load of information at some slides and then read it out, but it’s also a waste of time. Sure you’ve given your presentation, but nobody will remember it.

Now that you’ve got your presentation planned and (almost) ready, ask yourself a simple question:

Would my audience benefit from some visual aid?

If your presentation is quite long, complicated or both the answer is probably yes. At this point you can start to put together a PowerPoint presentation. Examples of useful information to include are:

  • Charts and graphs
  • Headline information, e.g. steps in a process
  • Pictures
  • Video

If you are going to include text in your slides, ensure that it’s very short – Bullet points are ideal. If you think you’d like to include a chart, picture or video that’s fine, but you must be sure that it adds to your audience’s experience. If you’re not sure, don’t bother.

Guy Kawasaki, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, put forward an interesting theory about PowerPoint presentations. As a venture capitalist Guy had seen thousands of poor quality sales pitches, which lead him to suggest the 10/20/30 rule:

  • 10 slides
  • 20 minutes
  • Font size 30 (minimum)

These are not hard and fast rules, but they are a good guideline to work with. Having a large font size is vital, particularly if you’re presenting to a large audience – If your audience are straining their eyes to read what you’ve written you can be sure they aren’t listening to what you’re saying!

In Summary

Death by PowerPoint is a very real danger, but don’t let that put you off – So long as you have a solid presentation before you think about including PowerPoint, you’ll avoid it.

I hope that you’ve found this page interesting, and that you’ll think long and hard next time you’re going to give a presentation. Despite what you might be thinking you are capable of giving an engaging presentation – It just takes a bit of forward planning!

Now I’ll leave you with the article that started it all: Angela R Garber’s Death by PowerPoint.

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