How to Avoid Death By PowerPoint: David JP Phillips at TEDxStockholmSalon (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of presentation expert David JP Phillips‘ TEDx Talk on  How to Avoid Death By PowerPoint at TEDxStockholmSalon conference.


Okay, ladies and gentlemen, welcome. There is a question which has puzzled me for quite a while, and that is, why do our PowerPoints look the way they look? Or rather, how on earth, can we accept that they look the way they look? How can you do that?

And do you know what’s even more intellectually challenging for me to understand, is how can a person sit over here in this meeting room with ten others, observing this dismally bad PowerPoint filled with charts, graphical elements, page numbers, fading away five, seven minutes thinking of other things. You know the feeling, the boredom, the waste of time!? This person, after 40 minutes, he/she will stand up, a bit dazed, trotting off to his own office, coming to his own computer, flipping it up, going like: oh my god, I’ve got a presentation tomorrow, and I do have a PowerPoint to build. Now what is the chance that this person will build an equally bad PowerPoint as the one that he/she was by herself tortured by in the other conference room? Is that a big chance? Yeah.

Now, what is that, why do that, is that vengeance? Is that where you go, you did that to me, I’m going to do it to you, you got it coming, bro. Is that the case? I don’t think so. I don’t think that that’s got to do with vengeance; has got to do with intelligence. I think it’s got to do with something else.

Now my passion in life is the brain, and an even bigger passion than that is presentation skills. And I love combining these two. And about four years ago, I got so, so upset, I blew my top because the way that we do neural executions all over our boardrooms today is just, it’s not fair to our intelligence as being homo sapiens. So I thought, there’s got to be something we can do about this, so I searched the world, I looked for seminars, I looked for training programs, I looked for books that could solve this question for me, but there was none to be found.

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So I thought, well, I’ll just do as Franz Kafka said, ‘If it isn’t written, write it yourself’. And four years later, I have the great honor to stand here in front of you. What am I talking about? What are the PowerPoints I’m referring to? Well, they can look like this. Now, this is one of the top three universities in the world advising their students and their teachers on how to build great PowerPoints. I received this from a customer, and you’ve got to be semi-blind in order to even have something like this in the company.

I love this one. This one was awarded the prize of being the worst PowerPoint to be delivered by a public CEO in 2010. It’s a nice prize to pick up, isn’t it? Oh yes, thank you. Well done, mate. And then you’re like, this is bad, can it get worse? Yes, it can.

Now, this is the UN, in Afghanistan, the US military describing the situation in the area. And there are no comments on that. But then we get this one. My god, David Phillips, this has got to be the thing! This has got limited amounts of text. It’s got a supporting image. It’s got a clear headline. This is the truth. Well, the thing is, if you recognize yourself in any of these, which I think you do, nodding away, I want to make you aware of the following that if you delivered a presentation with something like that behind you, 90% of what you said was gone within 30 seconds. And then you go, no, no, no way, Jose, that is way, I know it’s bad, but it can’t be that bad, can it now, really?

Well, just let me give you an example of really how bad your working memory is, and mine, for that case. I want you to imagine this situation. You’re at the train station, waiting for the train. You can see it coming on the horizon. You’re fiddling away, finally, find where you put your ticket. You take it out and you go, car five, seat 42, got it. Have you? You have absolutely no idea where you’re going to sit, do you? Feel like, is this seat me, or, I’ll check, five, 42, you put it down again. Have you got it? No, you haven’t got it, you’ll do this on an average of six times before you sit down. I’ve seen people in the train go: Five, 42, five, 42, yes, this is my seat, check.

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Now the bad news in the situation is this, you do not have a separate working memory for PowerPoint and a separate working memory for train tickets. It’s the same dismally bad working memory for both activities. So I might be harsh when I say this, but there is one man on this earth who knows more about the brain than anybody else, one of the most leading neurologists, called John Medina, and he puts it like this… and it’s with his words that I welcome you to How to Avoid Death by PowerPoint.

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