Time to ban PowerPoint?

A friend mine at Fonterra tells a wonderful story about attending a large dairy research and technology conference in the mountains of Austria a few years back. The morning of their first day, the world's foremost experts in dairying innovation faced a crisis. A massive storm during the night had knocked out the hotel's AV equipment. At breakfast, the collective mood of the presenters was bleak as they contemplated the task ahead of them. They would have to present their ideas without PowerPoint.

Contrary to expectations, what transpired over the next two days was a triumph. Delegates and presenters alike rated it the best conference they’d ever attended. The sessions were dynamic and interactive - the mood of the room buoyant and supportive. Why? The answer’s simple. These presenters were forced to communicate their ideas rather than hide behind a complicated slide deck. Out rolled the white-boards and flip-chats and real effort was made to connect with their audience – who loved them for it. The sessions were so successful that PowerPoint was immediately banned for all future conferences, replaced instead with programme of interactive gatherings and Q&As.

So is it time to ban PowerPoint in your organisation?

You wouldn't be alone. Among innovative leaders, the trend of banning PowerPoint is growing remarkably fast. We've all heard the stories of Steve Jobs going ballistic at the sight of a bullet point – excuse the pun. But it's not just Apple. Jeff Bezos banned it a few years back. Amazon employees are now required to compose a narrative memo prior to their meetings. They then begin each session with a quiet period where everyone thoroughly reads the briefing. A robust discussion ensues. LinkedIn follows a similar process. And it’s not just tech companies. Just last week new US secretary of defence Ashton B Carter asked for PowerPoint to be banned when military commanders brief him on their strategy for combating ISIS. Even physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider have realised that "the use of PowerPoint was acting as a straightjacket to discussion". So if scientists, Generals and CEOs are doing it, why can't you?

Something I often say to my clients is this. When it comes to effective presenting the single biggest thing you can do to improve your impact in the shortest amount of time is to simply rethink the way you utilise visual aid software.

To put it another way, ask yourself this question: At my next presentation, if my PowerPoint failed could I still effectively communicate my key ideas? If you answer no, chances are your audience are suffering – along with your credibility.