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

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

Now, there’s a big, the major drawback with PowerPoints, and that is that the majority of companies on this earth today, they persist in having white backgrounds in PowerPoint. Look at that. Oh, it’s bright, it’s shiny, could you tell me who has the highest contrast, me or the screen? Well, the screen. Who’s usually the biggest, me or the screen? Well, the screen. So the only option I have is dress myself up in signalling colors and jump around on stage in order to balance that problem out, and that is obviously not a good corporate strategy in the long term, would it be?

I think the long-term strategy is to just switch it around. PowerPoint is not supposed to have white backgrounds. If I do this, your eyes relax. You focus on me. I’m the biggest object. I’m the most contrast-rich object. I got your focus. Why is that important? It’s important because I am, I always have been, and I always will be the presentation. That is my visual aid.

Moving into the last principle, and that is objects. This one of the most severe principles, and it goes like this. How many objects do I have here? If you count them quickly, you’ll see that I’ve got 16. You see this little beauty at the end as well which goes page 12 of 95? What is that? Why do we do that? We’d only create anxiety if anything, you are. Oh my god, I can’t take 83 more of those. But, it can also create hope because imagine, imagine when it’s 90 out of 95. Oh, I can see the light, I can see the end of the tunnel. Kidding aside, don’t do that.

Now there are so many ideas out there on how many objects you’re supposed to have in PowerPoint, and once and for all, I just want to put my foot down and state to you that this is the perfect amount. In order to do that, I want you to just feel it yourself. How many objects are you supposed to have? We’re going to do that by showing you a couple of balls. I’ll throw up the balls. I want you to nod to me when you’ve counted them. Simple instruction, you with me? Cool, here we go. Boom. Alright, takes you about two seconds, good, well done. Next set of balls, count them and nod to me when you’ve counted them, here we go. Excellent, yeah, that took you about 1.2 seconds if you’re normal, which about 90% of you seem to be. We’ll have the third set of balls, the last one, look at this, nod to me when you’ve counted them. Oh, what was that? I just pressed a button, and you nodded simultaneously. That will, if you are normal, take you 0.2 seconds, two-tenths of a second. This will take you 1.2, this will take you two-tenths of a second.

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And for anyone of you who, you’re good at math, you’ll find out that that number is approximately 500% difference. How is that even remotely possible? There are only two objects indifference. Well, might I suggest the following, this one you have to count, and this one you see. Could that be correct? So what you just experienced is the following: that the cognitive process of counting takes 500% longer time, requires 500% more energy resources to execute than just seeing. So, what I want you to keep in mind at all times, what I want you to keep in your head is this, which is the Swedish number for this. The magical number is six. It’s not five, it’s not seven, it’s six. And I want to make you aware of this.

When you go into a presentation in the future, and you’ve built this amazing PowerPoint, if you’ve got more than seven objects, or seven or more objects, you have to be aware that all the people in there, they have to use 500% more energy and cognitive resources to understand what’s in your PowerPoint. Now, how do you think their energy-saving brain by nature behaves? Will it go like ooh, I’ll easily invest 500% more cognitive resources to understand this weird slide, or, I won’t? I won’t. And you’ve just incurred death by PowerPoint.

Now what does this look like in real life? Well, have a look at this. 16 objects, can we agree that that’s too many? Yes, we can. So what does it look if we reduce it. Look at this. We go from this to this. And this is where your brain goes, ‘ahh’. And this is where your brain goes, ‘ugh’. Ahhh, ugh. And I assume that in the future when you deliver PowerPoints to your colleagues, to your fellow people, you want them to go, ‘ahhh’ when you show them your slides. You don’t want them to go ‘uggh’. Now there is … have you seen this movie, the Rain Man by Dustin Hoffman? Seen that? It’s a beauty, isn’t it? He comes into this cafeteria, and somebody drops the toothpicks, and he goes like, boom, 24/7. It’s amazing, isn’t it? His perceptive limit is here. Your perceptive limit is here.

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Now what amazes me is that whichever country I go to, whichever company I see, it seems like they build PowerPoints in the hope that all their fellow colleagues are autistic or savants, which obviously is not the case. So, but then you go like this, but, David, my god! This means that I have to have more slides. Yes, that is entirely correct, you have understood me clearly. I want to make one thing clear here, and that is that the amount of slides in your PowerPoint has never been the problem. It is the amount of objects per slide which has been the problem. This stupid idea that corporate organizations all over the world have come up with limitations going like ooh, we’ve got this clever idea. You can’t use 40 slides, you can only use four. So what do people do? Well, they take the content of the rest 36, and they jam it in the first four. My god, is that counterproductive or what. And we call ourselves intelligent. No, no. Alright, so compared.

I started off with 95 of those. We ended up with a 135 of these. And yes, it gave an immediate result to the application that we were working for. So, to summarize this. Let’s have some fun and do a cross-examination because obviously I have to prove my point. Do you remember more than 90% of what I said? I’m not going to be that harsh. Let’s do a crossword instead. It’s going to go like this. Words are going to come up, I’m going to ask you to scream them out as loud as you can as we along. How many messages are you supposed to have per slide?

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