Do Only the Really Smart (or Stupid) Fly Without PowerPoint?

When I get ready for a training or a speech, the first thing I do is outline content in PowerPoint slides.  It helps me frame my thoughts and gauge for flow of material.  Then I go back and provide content for a supporting document like a handout.  And I’m lucky, I hand it off to someone else to make it all look pretty, cohesive, and professional before it ever goes live. 

I’m working on a pitch now for some seed funding, and my first thought is how do I organize the pitch through PowerPoint slides.  The information on guidelines for the pitch session even specifically references using “supporting slides.” 

PowerPoint seems to be the default when we want to present ideas to a group.  Whether there are words on a slide or just graphics, it seems to be the way everyone thinks when it comes to sharing ideas. Even the more innovative talk formats like Ted and Ignite talks almost always use slides.  I’ve written some do’s and don’ts based on experience for creating a winning presentation, but what if we ditched the slides all together in favor of another way? 

It’s well known that Jeff Bezos at Amazon called for just that in 2004.  He deemed presentation slides out and narrative text in.  Why? From his email announcing this: 

“A little more to help with the questions ‘why.’

Well structured, narrative text is what we’re after rather than just text. If someone builds a list of bullet points in Word, that would be just as bad as PowerPoint. 

The reason writing a good 4-page memo is harder than ‘writing’ a 20-page PowerPoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what’s most important than what, and how things are related. 

PowerPoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas.” 

He went on to say at another time: 

“Great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind.  They simply can’t be done in a day or two.” 

To summarize, Bezo (and I would agree) believes that this version of presentation style: 

  • Increases thinking and clarity of thought
  • Increases collaboration
  • Requires and builds patience

All this leads to better communication. 

Great narrative written format, like someone who can fly without PowerPoint in a pitch or presentation and opts only for narrative verbal prose to make a lasting point(s), is hard.  It’s really hard.   

I think Bezos also would say, ditching the PowerPoint helps me see who is smart, really smart.  And also, a really hard worker. 

So, if you are going to fly without the slides, you need to be a very good storyteller in written and/or verbal prose and know if your audience is geared well towards the shell shock of another format.  Amazon created an environment where no PowerPoint was the norm. Almost everywhere else this isn’t.  

So, should I fly solo with no PowerPoint in my pitch in June? You tell me.  Could it show that I am smart, hardworking and different or will I crash and burn given that the instructions for format already tell me my audience is expecting slides?  

Am I smart or just plain stupid ditching PowerPoint? 


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Mary Ila Ward