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April 10, 2007


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Great insights Garr. I've been experimenting in situations where you read along with a speaker (eg. quotes, sermons and such) Experentially I find there IS conflict in the mind, but I get much more from the eye than I do from the ear.

But then what I think REALLY counts is the overall experience of a speaker and his images, behavior, props, etc. - much more powerful than any text.

Bears out what you preach about PowerPoints.

Seth Yates

Er...University of South Whales? You mean University of New South Wales (NSW)?

Leoni Venter

Sometimes circumstances forces you to make Powerpoint presentations containing your entire presentation... no matter how much it bugs you to do so.

In a previous life I taught introductory Computer Science (and especially C programming) at a university in South Africa. Many of my students were working and could not attend classes. I had to set up my slides for people who would not be there to hear the lecture.

But in class I tended to forgo the slides and rather ran an IDE live to demonstrate the concepts I was talking about, which seemed to work fairly well. The students present certainly were more responsive and interested during the live demos than during 'slideshow' classes.

Interesting blog, by the way, I've been lurking for months ;-)


Garr, do you have any comment then on your own use of quotes in slides?

I felt it was quite ironic for you to use a written quote to illustrate a point about not reading / speaking the same text! ;)

How would you present the quote slide example you have added to your presentation? Would you read the quote or stand silently while your audience read it? Are you concerned that as you speak some people may be rereading the quote and so miss your discussion?

I'd be interested in peoples perspective on this since using quotes in presentations is something I do myself.

Are written quotes different from bullet points or do they suffer the same cognitive limitations?

Jedidja Bourgeois

I can't remember if you mentioned it an earlier post or not, but this is exactly what Cliff Atkinson's book 'Beyond Bullet Points' covers. I think people really enjoy not having to read a ton of text on slides :)

Tom Elliott

This sensible and well-balanced article overlooks one valid use case for an extended text block in powerpoint: a multilingual audience in which many members are accustomed to reading the presenter's language to some degree, but not speaking it. Obviously, this is a niche case, but we do encounter it frequently in academic meetings. In glossing the text of key points, as well as whole quotations, the presenter provides the audience with extra tools necessary to follow the line of argument and associated evidence. As in all presentations, quotations must be chosen judiciously and used sparingly, but that's a composition/content issue, not a PowerPoint issue.

Garr Reynolds

Thanks for the question, AEM. Yes, I was aware of the irony ;-) With presentations there is more involved, of course, than just information transfer. As I said, it's as much an art as a science. In my talks, *Showing* the quote demonstrates in a sense that "it is real" that I am being accountable, that this person really did say that (and they can look it up if they do not believe me), that I have done my homework and prepared, etc. Showing the actual quote can bring other emotional elements to the talk as well such as credibility, trust, etc. Tom Peters, for example, uses quotes (maybe even too many) for this very same reason. He is just one guy, he says, but if he can show that leaders of industry have said this and that, well, that backs him up.

I am not suggesting that slides can not have some text (even outside of quotes). Sometimes you want to show a list of features or benefits, etc. Many in the science community have found one declarative sentence per slide is a good rule of thumb (with supporting visuals). Then there is the issue of audience members who may be better readers of English than listeners since English is not their native language. In this case the single declarative sentence, single words, etc. may help.

Although many will gasp at the thought, information transfer is not always the main point of the presentation even if we believe it is. In many cases presentations are more about the transfer of emotions, motivation, inspiration, etc. There certainly is no cookie-cutter formula....

Thanks! -g

Fred Woodbridge

Hi Garr,

Great site, great blog; I quote it from time to time on my own blog and my goal is to get and read just about every one of the books you have recommended.

I also saw this NSW article and wrote a post about it and I'm very happy you've tackled it as well. I haven't read your take yet but I'm going to get a nice cup of coffee and read it.



Allan White

Exellent post as usual, Garr. This is challenging many of the assumptions I've had about text onscreen - or rather, articulating some of the unconcious dissonance I've had about how much text is too much.

I'd been searching for the right term for "cognitive load" for a while. When I was designing a lot of Flash animations and interfaces, I came up with the term, "animation load" to describe how much people could handle looking at once. "Cognitive load" describes that much better and more broadly.

You likely don't need to hear this from yet another person, but I really appreciate the work you do on this blog. The entries are much meatier and thought-provoking than the usual blog fare, and you're doing a true service to the presenting community. I've felt personally inspired to do more presentation work, and to be a vocal advocate of better presentation design in my little circle.

I noticed you're in Portland, too - I wonder what a Portland presenter's meetup would be like?


Thanks for this. I am wholeheartedly in agreement on a personal level. On a professional level, I work for a company where PPT decks are the dominant means of communicating any idea, with the result that long-from Word documents are a complete non-starter.

The question then is how do you manage the tension between a good (text light) presentation using the practices you demonstrate above and the requirement to have something meatier to leave behind. If you do two versions, one light for presentation and one meaty for handout, you will probably confuse the attention-challenged in the audience (which these days feels like everyone)...



Allan White

Ken - the only successful way I've seen it done is to have both a handout and a presentation. It's more work, but more effective.

I've seen so many companies try to use PPT as a knowledge management tool, with poor results.

Susan Abbott

We don't blame pencils for bad writing, and we shouldn't blame PowerPoint either.

Having said that, I am dismayed that so many of my clients seem to think PowerPoint is the format they want reports presented in. I love it for presentations, but I do find it difficult to use to communicate complex or nuanced ideas.

Great blog.


Great post. Great blog. When I first saw the title of the post, I thought Apple annouced Keynote for Windows. :)

By the way, how did you create the transparency of the waste basket while having the powerpoint box in there. I am guessing they are different images - waste basket being transparent?

Thanks - Oz


The problem with PowerPoint is some users think it will replace the need for presentation skills and a solid presentation. PowerPoint is only a tool. It should aid presentations, not create them.

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