A Client Challenges Me: You Can’t Make This Slide Better

During a recent presentation training workshop, I discussed the best practices for PowerPoint design.

As usual, I made the case that words and bullets are ineffective mechanisms through which to transfer knowledge to an audience. Instead, I told the audience, well-designed visuals do more to make your points memorable than bullet points ever could.

To reinforce my point, I showed several examples of my “before and after” slides. (Those slides are proprietary, but these sample slides will give you a good idea of the approach I take.)

After making my impassioned case for cleaner slides, one woman in the audience—a lawyer who lectures about copyright law—raised her hand. She said, “I like what your slides look like, but there’s just no way we can do that here. Our content doesn’t work for those types of visual slides.”

I noticed that she had a rather large printout of her slides in front of her, so I asked her to flip to any random slide in her deck. She turned to a page that looked like this:

PowerPoint Example Producers2

“See what I mean?” she said. “There’s not a creative way to do that.”

I asked her to tell me what point she wanted to make while showing that slide. “I want people to realize that those are four different things—and that obtaining legal clearance from only one of those parties may not be sufficient.”

I asked the audience to give me a moment to try to come up with something better. For the first several seconds of silence, I’ll admit that I was stumped—and as the seconds ticked away, I got increasingly nervous that I’d have to concede defeat.

Suddenly, I had an idea. I whipped out my iPhone and did a quick Google search. I got the facts I needed, turned back to the audience, and announced:

“The best slide you could show to make this point is to show no slide at all!”

Then, I pressed play on the song I had queued up on my phone, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. The audience looked a bit confused as the song’s opening bass line kicked in, but I had their attention. Then, I said:

“Michael Jackson wrote and performed this song. But he didn’t produce it. Quincy Jones was the producer of this track. And Epic Records, a division of Sony, is the record label. If you want to use this song and think that all you’d have to do is clear it with Michael Jackson—or, in this case, his estate—you could set yourself up for serious legal risk.”


Billie Jean 45


Without much prompting, she agreed that would be a much more effective approach. And it didn’t require a single bullet point.

If she had still wanted to use a slide, she could have shown a full-screen still from the Billie Jean video, an image of the 45 (remember those?), or just a shot of Michael Jackson. She could have embedded the audio into the slide, pressed play, and allowed the audience to wonder what her point was for a few seconds before delivering it.

With enough thought, there is almost always a better way to make your on-message visuals more memorable. And sometimes, you might find that your creative thought eliminates the need for a slide altogether.

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