Hari Patience-Davies shares three ways of engaging and sharing information with an audience that aren’t a PowerPoint deck.

In 2003 Robert Gaskins, the founder of PowerPoint, estimated that over 30 million PowerPoint presentations were created every day. How may are created every day in 2021 is almost too huge to grasp. 100 million? A billion? It’s impossible to know.  

However many the total is, it’s a safe argument that it’s too many. In my personal experience alone I have seen PowerPoint used to design printed booklets, posters, web banners and even animated videos. I’m a big fan of the software and despite alternatives like Prezi coming along and catching the zeitgeist (briefly) I just keep coming back to my PPTs. 

But when we want to stand out from the crowd it’s worth considering if we really need a PowerPoint deck to support the presentation or speech we want to give. 

Is there another way to cut through the slide fatigue of our audience and engage them with more than just words – but without a deck?

1. Printed books

High quality printed books – full colour glossy pages, hard back covers – are great ways to ensure your audience has all the information you couldn’t fit into your speech. Plus they look and feel great –   like a customised coffee table book all of your very own.

For those on a budget, wiro or perfect bound A4 booklets can also serve – true they feel less impressive than a hardback but they are also less bulky so can be easier for your audience to carry.

The downside of printed books is the cost – both in terms of money (hardback colour printing is NOT cheap) and the time it takes to design and proof. But if budget isn’t a problem, why not put everything you’d have put into a deck into a book instead?

2. Videos

Like printed books videos require either time (and editing skills) or money (to pay someone with editing skills) but they’re great ways of engaging an audience with the key things you want them to remember.

I know of a new business pitch when in responding to the Request For Proposal from a financial client, a company put together a 500 page document. This was sent over to the financial client, who, after a few days called the company and said they didn’t understand the document. It was too long, too technical, too complicated – they just didn’t get it.

The company went back to the drawing board and ended up putting together a short 7 minute video which showed how the product they were championing in the 500 page document would actually work from the customer’s point of view. The financial client loved it, the pitch was won and by all accounts the project was incredibly successful. 

A video telling a story was more effective than a detailed document explaining every detail. Showing a “real” customer interaction made the product “real” to the audience. 

It used to be that you needed a professional studio to make a good video, but with powerful cameras on every smart phone and editing software cheaply available, a well made video is a lot more accessible and available than you might think.

3. Big printed pictures

It may feel old school to turn up to a meeting with a A1 portfolio full of printed mounted pictures and an easal, but don’t dismiss this idea out of hand. After all what is a PowerPoint deck but a collection of images and words – returning to the retro root of presentation and bringing physical slides can really pique the curiosity of your audience.

Bringing A1 mounted printouts really works if you have some spectacular imagery at your disposal. This is not the time to bring out clip art or the same half dozen images from free image sites like Unsplash or Pexels that everyone uses. If you’re going to get them printed, then put some budget into the images themselves – check out Getty’s database or commission a photographer to make sure the quality of your images shines through.

When taking a physical selection of images, you need to be incredibly selective – this is not a time to recreate your 50 slide deck in printed form. Keep the number of images in single figures and make every single one visually stunning.

This sort of presentation approach works best with multiple people, and you should also be sure to practise it properly and have a dress rehearsal or two. You don’t want an uncertain or nervous team member to drop a picture or hold it upside down – this is a performance that needs to be as slick as it can be. 

Physical pictures are particularly good if you’re telling an aspirational story about where the audience could be in the future. I know of a pitch where a large picture was created of a future office, which really captured the imagination of the audience – and because it’s a physical picture you can gift it to someone, who will then think of your presentation or speech every time they look at it.

We don’t have to use PowerPoint to include all the details, make ourselves understood or show off beautiful images – so ask yourself this question, for my next presentation, can I ditch the deck?


Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst 

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