If you think your business presentation slides are bad (they probably are), latch on to the good news that worse slides are out there . . . in fact, this post features the Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World.
But first, your personal slide curse.
Your personal revelation of your own bad PowerPoint slides starts innocently enough . . .
You click the remote and a new slide appears. You cast a wistful look back at the screen.
Perhaps you squint as you struggle to understand what’s on the screen. It’s almost unreadable.
Your mind reels at the thought that well, maybe . . . this slide actually is awful and should never have been included.
As bad as your slides are, they likely are not as bad as what lurks in corporate America or in the U.S. government.
New York Times Features the World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide
Your slides likely will never reach the bottom of the pit, the awful standard set by our friends in the U.S. government, who crafted and actually presented a monstrosity of such egregious proportions that the New York Times featured it on its front page in 2010 for no other reason than that it was an awful PowerPoint slide.
When the NYT considers your slide front page news, that is a bad slide.
The slide was actually used in a briefing to the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal. It purported to explain U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, all on one slide.
That slide appears at the end of this post.
If you dare, scroll down to this heinous freak of design concocted in a government laboratory and completely undeserving to be shown in public . . . except on the front page of the New York Times as the exemplar of how depraved PowerPoint evil can be.
Our Bad Slides Usually Involve Numbers
We show numbers, lots of them. And at times we are tempted to believe that the “numbers speak for themselves.”
And so we whip out the tired, useless phrase “As you can see.”
The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that it requires iron will to prevent ourselves from uttering this reflexive phrase-hiccup.
The bain of “As you can see” is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet of tiny, baffling numbers.
Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.
The audience most assuredly cannot see.
In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.
And that’s why we reach for the phrase.
Because we can’t “see,” either.
We look back helplessly at our own abstruse PowerPoint slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show.
Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . .
“As you can see—”
And then you call out what seem to be random numbers. Random? Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.
You have not provided the context needed for understanding. No one knows what you’re talking about.
Your classmates watch with glazed eyes. Perhaps one or two people nod.
Your professor sits sphinx-like.
And no one has a clue. You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved. And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.
“As you can see” Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide. And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.
It gives rise to the worst PowerPoint slides imaginable, because the incentive to excellence is removed.
This can’t be good. Not for the audience, not for anyone.
All of this sounds heinous, I know. And probably too familiar for comfort.
If the best thing you can say about your slides is that they’re not the worst PowerPoint in the world, then maybe it’s time to upgrade your expectations.
You can beat “As you can see” Syndrome with a few simple techniques that we be discuss in days to come.
Don’t vie for the worst PowerPoint crown . . . the remedy can be found in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.
. . . and here is the Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World, as honored by the New York Times . . .