What Would Dylan Do? Alternatives to PowerPoint


A few months ago I attended a professional event at which I knew a well-respected and charismatic CEO would be speaking. Sure enough, he started things off with the stage presence of a stand up comedian and quickly had us all laughing and leaning in.

But then it started: The dreaded PowerPoint presentation.

No sooner did he click that first slide and our esteemed CEO reduced himself to the status of a subject matter expert, while lulling his audience into a barely-conscious, PowerPoint trance.

What would compel this highly capable speaker tosurrender his story to PowerPoint?

The answer is probably habit – if not his own, the habit of the person who prepares him for speaking events. And that’s too bad.

PowerPoint, for all it has done to help us organize and share ideas, tends to homogenize business communication and reduce even the best speakers to mediocrity.

Next time you’re faced with a speaking opportunity (whether for a crowd of thousands or just two or three), ask yourself whether PowerPoint is the best tool for the job. Consider these great alternatives:

  • “Chalk and Talk:” That old fashioned, tactic of writing ideas on a chalk board, white board or flip chart can work just as well in the board room as it did in the classroom.

  • “Show and Tell:” Whether it’s a book or an auto part, a 3D prop for your audience to see and experience can drive home your point with lasting impact.

  • Video: I don’t suggest surrendering all your allotted time to video. But at times strategic use of video may be the best way to make the abstract concrete, showcase something located off-site or simply energize an audience.

  • Cue cards (or poster boards on an easel): Most famously employed by Bob Dylan to reveal lyrics of his “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” cue cards are refreshingly low-tech while making key points memorable.

  • “Straight Talk:” Speaking with no visual aids is effective if you are an experienced presenter, your message is profound or your talk is very short.

In fact, if you’re not sure which format is best for your presentation, start with “Straight Talk.” While you’re preparing, try to deliver your entire talk start to finish with no visual support. If your ideas are too abstract or the talk is too long, then build in visual elements with a prop, cue cards, whiteboard or even PowerPoint.

But if your run through reveals that your ideas and delivery can stand alone, by all means, have the restraint to let them.

Christina McKenna