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What if There Were No Slides?


By Mark Kretschmar

Spend any time in corporate America and the rule is obvious: When giving a presentation, thou shalt use PowerPoint (or some sort of slideware). Some companies are so locked into PowerPoint, and even a particular style of slide design (usually ineffective), that when someone changes the slides to be more effective, they get blowback. “Where are the bullets!!” “Where’s the logo and tag line on the lower third!!” Maybe you should just skip the slides altogether?

I hope the reason “they” want you to use PPT is because of clear evidence that visuals enhance understanding, engagement, and message effectiveness. It’s a real shame that important fact has only resulted in slides full of bullet-pointed cues for the presenter with no “visual” value.

Because the brain (working memory actually) forms stories (in the episodic buffer) from the combination of language and visuals, visuals really are a must. Skip the slides. Let’s try something different.

Visuals Without Visuals

You can create great visuals in the mind of the audience with a vivid description (brain scans show lots of activity in the visual cortex during vivid descriptions). This is the true art of storytelling. If you’re persuading an audience to adopt a new way of doing things or looking at things, paint a picture of what the future looks like with this new skill or attitude. The audience is most impressed by images of themselves; since you don’t have one, create it with your words. Describe it fully. Where, exactly, are they? How do they feel? What’s going on around them? Any sounds or smells present in this picture?


Writing and drawing on a white board or flip chart is very interactive. The audience sees the visual developing directly from the interactions as you speak and they respond. They are playing a role in the creation of the visual; they have some ownership of it so they care about it. It’s hard to bring that on a slide.

Screen-Less Visuals

Here’s an old-school idea – bring a big poster or two with a visual. These days, it’s really easy and inexpensive to have something like that printed and mounted. Many of you have seen me present and I likely had my “brain poster” with me. I use the poster for two reasons: First, it gives the audience a refreshing break from screen-staring for visual input. Second, I keep it on an easel so I can continue to refer to it throughout the rest of my presentation.

The Real Thing

Of course, a great visual would be an actual 3-D object rather than an image. The mind engages differently when it’s in the room with the item. You can turn it to see different perspectives. (Of course, you can do that in PPT these days too).


A caution on physical objects: Don’t pass them around the room unless you can make a really compelling argument for doing so. When an object gets passed around the room, you lose control of the focus of the person with the object and people nearby who are monitoring the object’s progress. Because they only have ONE functional focal point, if it isn’t you they’re focused on, you’ve lost them and they are not listening to you. You may make your most compelling point when some people aren’t even paying attention and you gave them permission to do so.

Buffers and Padding

I’m always excited when a speaker tells me he or she isn’t going to use any slides. I know the content must be good and they are confident. Otherwise, they’d feel compelled to prop up the presentation with pictures, animations, bullets and the like. In addition, slides often relieve the pressure on a speaker because they can divert the audience’s attention away from themselves.

But not you. If you’ve been following this Presentation Rebellion series, looked at the free resources on my web page, or spent some energy in some other way to improve your presentation skills, then you are, or soon will be, confident in front of the audience, eager to deliver the message you know will impact them – that’s why you’re standing there.

See original post here.

To increase your value by bringing your communication skills up to match your technical skills, contact Mark at mark@engineerspeak.com or 651-728-0352 and check out the helpful, free content on engineerspeak.com.


By Photographer attributions vary from unidentified (William Frassanito) to Mathew Brady (NARA) and David Bachrach (1845-1921) (Center for Civil War Photography). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons