When it comes to informing and persuading others through presentations, it’s simply astounding that well-educated, highly qualified and successful people—who would challenge any assumptions related to their area of expertise—will quietly take for granted the science and theory of effective communication. What’s even more astonishing is that they do so on the basis of one simple statement: “That’s the way it’s done.”

Physicians who wouldn’t prescribe anything stronger than ibuprofen without clinical trials will deliver 100+ slides during a continuing medical education (CME) workshop to their peers. When you ask them why so many or why slides at all, they’ll tell you “that’s the way it’s done.”

Executives who wouldn’t make a single decision without reviewing net present value calculations against a range of alternatives will sit quietly while their senses are numbed during briefings. Nobody questions the value of projected slides and printed presentation decks, how they’re presented or whether separating orality (spoken language) and literacy (written language) might improve productivity and decision-making. After all, “that’s the way it’s done.”

Quote from Five Steps to Conquer 'Death by PowerPoint'
Investment managers who wouldn’t invest a single penny of client money without conducting thorough research will happily bring a thick presentation deck to annual client updates. They never question whether simple alternatives would increase client understanding about how money is invested, or how the person making investment decisions is adding value. They never question whether clients asking dozens of questions is more important than any slide, or whether bringing slides in the first place interferes with the question-and-answer process. “That’s the way it’s done”, they’ll tell you.

Boards of directors will receive information about complex hedging strategies through projected slides, printed presentation decks and oral presentations—all at the same time! Would research on informed consent around the principle of “less is more” potentially improve decision-making? Probably. Would a format that allows more questions to be asked by directors per unit of time enhance understanding and ultimately improve decisions? Absolutely. But these directors sit quietly through the presentation before asking one or two questions at the end, because “that’s the way it’s done.” Then they’ll make their decision.

Professors at master’s degree programs in communication management will project slide after slide or go through one presentation deck after another in the classroom. Research into best practices of adult education indicates that greater equality between facilitator and students (especially those with extensive industry experience like master’s degree students) enhances the learning experience for everyone involved, including the professor. And while at least one credible educator has asserted that the world’s most popular slideware program creates a power relationship between sender and receiver that’s anything but equal, they continue to use slides as the basis for teaching, because “that’s the way it’s done.”

If master’s level students in communication management are wading their way through projected and printed slides, imagine what’s taking place in undergraduate classrooms, not to mention conferences, workshops, plenaries, updates, annual meetings, management meetings, service meetings, sales meetings, staff meetings, foundation presentations, sales calls, training programs, seminars, teleconferences, short list presentations, investment reviews, pension board meetings, audit committee meetings, and marketing meetings the world over every single day.

“That’s the way it’s done” has led us to where we are today. We now have a new phrase to express the phenomenon: “Death by PowerPoint.”

And it’s killing us.

PowerPoint: Not the Problem
Let’s be clear here. PowerPoint is not the problem. PowerPoint is not flawed. The program simply has become a victim of its own success. PowerPoint has the task of enabling words, graphs and images to be projected onto a screen or printed horizontally. The software program was originally designed to emulate 35-mm slides, at a time when slides cost fifty to one hundred dollars each to produce. PowerPoint completes its assigned tasks as well or better than anything else on the market. You simply click to add text, and start typing.

necessary or desirable 2
As we’ll explore, therein lies the problem. Once you start adding text, when do you stop? You end up with a document that makes perfect sense to you, but isn't as well understood as you would have hoped. However, imagine for a moment that you had to take one hundred dollars out of your budget for every slide you use. Every slide would suddenly have value and this book would never have been written.

Microsoft has created a program that has taken the world by storm. PowerPoint is the market leader and ‘Death by PowerPoint’ is a catchy phrase. If another program was the market leader, the expression could very well be “Killed by Keynote” or “Pummeled by Prezi.” Trust me, in the old days, we all knew what it was like to “overdose on overheads.”

No; PowerPoint is not the problem. The problem lies with assumptions underlying its use. Those assumptions are moving us further and further away from conversational exchanges when people get together. Correcting 'Death by PowerPoint' has little to do with good design, using images, incorporating video or posing questions on your slides, which is how most pundits attack the problem. It lies with the underlying assumption that slides are actually necessary or desirable in the first place. The depth to which this fundamental assumption is ingrained in our social psyche is a testament to the effectiveness of the marketing department at Microsoft, and at 3M before that. They played the tune. We followed along.