Death by PowerPoint? It’s not the tool, it’s the CEO.

Business managers are still struggling with PowerPoint for internal communications says a study by presentation consulting firm Eyeful Presentations. This isn’t news, but what is news is how widespread the problem is and how apathetic corporations are about solving it.

When critics complain about Death by PowerPoint, they typically blame the tool or the user. But perhaps we should be saying “It’s not the tool; it’s the CEO.” How can we blame the user who is never asked to improve?  Just the same as if a culture of apathy existed toward product quality or customer service, the company leaders are accountable if a culture of bad PowerPoint goes unaddressed.

The 2010 Business Presentation Survey found:

  • 56% use PowerPoint for internal communications, close behind sales (66%) and marketing (61%). While we commonly think of sales presentations when we think of PowerPoint, internal communications is emerging as a key scenario.
  • Death by PowerPoint is especially common in internal communications. This makes sense, given how little business managers know about using PowerPoint well and the fact that internal communications involve more charts, supporting data and dense details than would a sales presentation.
  • There’s a sense of apathy about improving these presentations because, unlike a sales presentation, internal PowerPoint decks are not linked to revenue. Audiences and presenters are more willing to tolerate bad slides with a blizzard of bullet points.

Another interesting finding is that these trends are more widespread in North America than Europe. Says Simon Morton, Eyeful’s Managing Director, “North America seems to reach for PowerPoint a lot more readily for internal communications than the Brits. For example, we work with a software vendor whose European team uses PowerPoint quite sparingly for internal communications whilst their US counterparts seem to use it for almost everything!”

What does this mean to you?

Problems generally mean opportunities, and the same is true for PowerPoint.

First, if others are floundering but apathetic about improving their internal communication skills, it’s a chance to distinguish yourself by developing your own PowerPoint skills. Many fortunes have been made by being an innovator while others followed the status quo.

Second, businesses could be more competitive if they trained employees on effective PowerPoint use. It’s an illusion to think internal communication is not linked to revenue. Internal communication leads to strategy and execution. If internal communication is poor, then execution will also be poor. I worked at a Fortune 500 company where I regularly saw strategic PowerPoint decks that were so incoherent the plans were not executed at all because no-one knew what was expected of them.

Third, rather than saying “It’s not the tool, it’s the user” perhaps we should adopt a new response: “It’s not the tool, it’s the training” or even “It’s not the tool; it’s the CEO.” Blaming the user for creating bad PowerPoint is like blaming the McDonald’s cook for preparing fatty food.

I wrote the book Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business to address this training need, after working for five years at a Fortune 500 company and experiencing first hand how plans fail to get executed because the PowerPoint decks are so poorly constructed.

Nancy Duarte strikes a positive note in this video, also championing for company leaders to look harder at the importance of presentation and visual communication skills.

In addition to my book, other books business leaders should check out are: Visual Slide Revolution by Dave Paradi, Advanced Presentations by Design by Andrew Abela and Clear and to the Point by Stephen Kosslyn. Also check out this article by Presentation Magazine: Using PowerPoint to convey complex issues.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

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