E3 – Don’t Start with a Powerpoint Presentation! – Do More Effective Presentations that Achieve Your Objectives

E3 – Don’t Start with a Powerpoint Presentation!

Do you always start with a PowerPoint presentation? Are they engaging?  Recent research says that audiences either go on their phones or fall asleep in presentations.

Powerpoint presentation: Man bored on phone

In this podcast, we discuss the fact we need to make our presentations much more engaging. Presenting is a key business skill. If we are not good at this skill, we will fail to engage our audience and sell, gain buy-in, or achieve our objectives.

Read the Don’t Start With a PowerPoint Presentation Podcast Transcript:

“Presenting and presentation skills are one of the key skills we need to have as a knowledge worker in the digital age. My name is Darren Smith and you’re at Short and Sticky Stories. We’re making business matter the home of sticky learning.”

“So I worked in corporate for about 15 years and commuted into London there and back four hours a day. Okay. Hey, it was what it was. I was a buyer for a large UK supermarket and the story I want to share with you is of frozen carrots. Yes, frozen carrots. They don’t turn over very much, but hey, it was part of the portfolio that I bought. So we had a carrot supplier, a frozen carrot supplier, and the meeting was coming up. So this was about consumer research. They had been out and done some work on understanding shoppers. So my ethos was around cash flow management and understanding shoppers, not surprisingly.”

Frozen Carrots

“They had taken this and run with it, not quite what I wanted them to do. I expected something a little different, but hey, good on them for trying. So the meeting day came. I booked a meeting room and there were about eight of us.”

“So eight of us in this room, teas and coffees ready. We just grabbed a brew and this guy stands up. So he’s in front of a screen and the first slide with the name of the supplier comes up. He says, “I’m going to talk about shopper research on frozen carrots and I’d welcome questions at the end.” Now I wanted to be a polite buyer, so I checked in. Okay, so you want questions at the end. So no questions during, no. And then what happened made my heart sink, because as he just was setting up a bit more of the tech, cause he’d forgotten something, which is fine.”

122 Slides

“I just saw that giveaway on the bottom right of the screen of PowerPoint. One of 122 slides. Yes, you heard it. 122 slides. 122 slides on shopper research of frozen carrots. Now I’m all for understanding the shopper, but that was ridiculous. So where had he gone wrong? Well to my mind, he’d done an awful lot of work and fair play to him. The challenge he hadn’t considered was making that stick. We’re not talking in this context about a learning stick, but we talking about a stick in terms of what actions we’re going to take away from this and implement.”

“Over the next two and a half hours, two and a half hours, this guy took us through slide by slide, shopper research of frozen carrots. He went into baby carrots, he went into wonky carrots. He went into the packaging. To his credit, it was exceptional.”

The Best Worst PowerPoint Presentation in the World

“It should be framed as probably the worst presentation in the world based on the best piece of work. And here’s the rub. We often do great pieces of work, but then let ourselves down in the execution, and that’s what this guy did too. He’d spent weeks pulling this together. He’d asked the shoppers everything you could ever want to ask about frozen carrots and then fall at the last hurdle because he wanted to share with us every fact that he found out and how he’d arrived at that fact. Now in the nicest possible way, we didn’t care. Even his boss didn’t care. Because as I looked around that room, people started to doodle, they started to fidget, and in body language terminology, there was leakage. Which means, people are tapping their table, they’re fiddling with their pen, they’re touching their ears, which means I don’t want to listen to this anymore.”

Don’t Start with PowerPoint for Your Presentations

“I was too young or too polite to stop him. Someone should’ve stopped him. Here’s the practical tip. Don’t start with PowerPoint. Yeah, I’ll say it again. Don’t start with PowerPoint. PowerPoint can be a fabulous tool and as the phrase goes, it’s a bit like a tramp. You don’t use a lamppost to lean on, you use it for illumination. Use PowerPoint to bring your presentation to life, not as opposed to lean on. But let me try that again. If you don’t start with PowerPoint, what do you start with? Well, we do have a download on our blog. The article is called, Don’t Start with PowerPoint. What essentially it says is take an A4 piece of paper and start with your objectives. What are you trying to achieve? Is your objective to sell five million pounds worth of product? Is it to convince the audience to do this one thing?”

What Do You Want to Achieve?

“What is it you want them to do at the end of this meeting? And then the page moves into, “Okay, how are you going to split your time up? What questions do you have? What questions do you think they have?” So you start with this one-page piece of paper, which is a template, which prompts you to think about this presentation before you open PowerPoint. One of the key things it asks to do is consider the format. Because I’ve seen presentations which have been fabulous, just using an A3 mind map, or an A1 board on the wall that everyone stands around, or maybe a handout of two or three slides. Because as soon as someone stands up at the screen, people lock their necks in a certain position and they’ll just almost listen for that time. But they’re just listening. They’re not interacting, they’re not engaging, they’re not adding value, and that’s what you want.”

Information Without Application Is Just Entertainment

“You don’t just want to give information. As someone once said, “Information without application is just entertainment.” So are you just there to entertain them? I doubt not. So what we can take away from this, “Begin with the end in mind,” that Stephen Covey said, who was the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. So what’s your end in mind? What do you want to achieve? And then work backwards. And our A4 template can certainly help you do that, or you can write it yourself. What are my objectives? What will their questions be? Will there be any barriers? What do I want them to do? What’s my format? What are they thinking?”

“Those sort of questions are the right ones to ask yourself before you dive into PowerPoint. Now here’s the crazy thing, it can actually take you a lot less time to do one engaging, interactive A1 board than it can to write a lot of slides. Now you’ve got to … if you are going to do slides, you’ve got to allow three minutes per slide. So if you’ve got an hour meeting with the buyer, there are 10 minutes at the start and you probably want 10 minutes, in the end, at least 10 minutes of Q&A, or maybe 20 minutes of Q&A, but let’s call that implementation and action.”

Final Thoughts

“Then you’re probably only doing about seven slides, but they’ve got to be a rich, good seven slides. So three tips to take away. One, don’t start with PowerPoint. Two, begin with the end in mind. What do you want to achieve? And three, leave enough time in the meeting to discuss how you achieve what you want to achieve. This action, this piece of behaviour that you want to happen, make sure there’s time to make that happen and discuss it. Thank you.”


For further tips and information, you can take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Presentation Skills and our Presentation Skills YouTube Channel.  Also, take a look at our award-winning blog to see more Presentation Skills Tips and articles.


We are delighted to announce that our Podcast: Personal Development Tips told through Short and Sticky Stories was selected as one of the Top 10 Negotiation Podcasts on the web by Feedspot. 

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