How to not suck at powerpoint, keynote or any slideshow? Follow this 1 rule

How not to suck at powerpoint


Fight against documents pretending to be powerpoint slides

This is a personal peeve of mine… And I know I’m guilty of breaking this rule. However, I see such badly put together slideshows sometimes that I feel I have to take a public stand.

And this is especially the case because I work in education, and more specifically in a field where the so-called experts should know better.

The 1 rule

Here it is in a nutshell [climbs up on soapbox]…

If you are delivering a presentation using powerpoint or keynote or some kind of slideshow software, your presentation is likely to suck unless you follow this one rule:

  • If you want to refer to something that requires more than 8 words on a slide, then supply a handout instead.

This rule applies to your boss as well. And your colleagues… Their presentations suck big time too.


To summarise this rule, I’ve supplied a single image slide show. It’s the picture above. Feel free to forward this blog post and accompanying message to anyone who insists on producing what I call slide-uments or docu-slides.

You know what I’m talking about right? A Slide-ument is any of the following:

  • When you have one slide with a 500 word essay written on in 12 point font
  • When you produce graphs and charts in MS Excel and screenshot them for your audience.
  • When you use more than 3 bullet points.

The solution to crappy slideshows (and presentations)

Why do people make crappy slideshows? The answer is simple… it’s a crutch. Unless you’re Tony Robbin’s you are probably like the rest of us and live in fear of public speaking of any kind.

A crappy slideshow is a crutch to make up for this insecurity and lack of confidence. Here’s the solution (but you won’t like it):

  1. Do more public speaking.
  2. Practice before hand.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2

Here’s a summary of my own slideshow preparation mantras to live or die by:

  • Don’t use words.
  • If words are necessary, aim for no more than 8 words on a slide.
  • Use high quality images.
  • Use a simple clear diagram.
  • Draw a picture.
  • Don’t be tempted by those crappy animations and slide transitions.
  • Don’t expect the venue’s wifi to work when you link to that Youtube clip.
  • Avoid using that crappy corporate template.
  • Supply a handout if you think people really need one.
  • Always pack a spare Thunderbolt to VGA adapter (if you’re on a Mac).

And regarding handouts

If it’s really necessary to supply a handout:

  • You’d better to make it a 1 pager. This is true for conferences. Your detailed 10 pages of notes are just going to get thrown out or filed in a folder and never looked at again. Save the trees.
  • Print it in colour. Yes, it’s 100x more expensive, but you want people to read it right?
  • Print it on A3 paper. Now this is just plain annoying… but it’s got to be big enough, colourful enough, and annoying enough that it totally dominates all of the crappy handouts produced by everyone else swilling around in your conference bag. And you’ll increase the chance that someone will actually look at it again.
  • Put your real notes online. Anyone who cares about what you’ve got to say will go and find it. Provided that you’ve made it easy to find… So:
  • Blog your notes. Or create them in Google Docs and share the link by email. Or do both. It’s not hard, and if you’ve never done either of these before it’s a really great learning curve.

Breaking the rules

Are there times that you can break these rules for slideshows and presentations? Yes… of course, and I do it all the time.

However, if you are a serial slide-ument offender (or you know someone who is), you need to stick to the rules above.

And you probably need a 12-step programme of some kind to break your addiction. As a former addict and offender, I’m setting up a support group…

[climbs down off soapbox]



Changing the world with literacy and numeracy: This guy’s $25 education start up is now building a new school every 90 hours


This is literacy and numeracy literally changing the world… the developing world. They are now building a new school every 90 hours.The reason: 250 million primary-aged children lack basic reading writing, and maths skills and these guys intend to do something about it.

It takes US$25 to educate a child and US$25,000 to build an entire school. Watch and be inspired by Pencils of Promise. The founder, Adam Braun, started this not-for-profit, for-purpose business with $25.

Now, Adam’s award-winning nonprofit organization has broken ground on more than 150 schools around the world and has delivered over 5 million educational hours to children in poverty. Wow…!

Great podcast interview here with James Altucher interviewing Adam.

I shall call him… Mini-MOOC – ALEC, Pathways Awarua and the great unbundling of education

What kind of microphone does James Altucher use for podcasting?

I know… this is the question that you’ve been asking yourself for weeks, right? Well, you can stop losing sleep over it right now…

James Altucher is a kind of podcasting god now with daily daily podcasts coming out as well as his normal high quality and much longer weekly podcasts.

Anyway, I have this obsession with getting the right tools to do the job. I already have a great Yeti Blue Mic which I bought when I was trying to figure out what Mic and software Sal Khan used to create his videocasts and YouTube clips.

RODE podcaster Mic

But lately, I’ve been thinking about podcasting a lot. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to set up, the software and editing seems easier to deal with, and I think it just takes less time. Plus the output is more portable, as in people can download much smaller audio files to their phones, rather than having to stream much larger video files which use up their mobile data.

So I messaged James today on twitter ()  since he was doing his weekly twitter Q & A session and asked him what his podcasting Mic set up was. I thought he might be using a headset, but he’s not. He replied immediately and he’s using this:

You can buy it on Amazon if you click on the link above or in the image at the top.

I haven’t ordered it, but I’d like to. I think I really need two good mics so I can do high quality interview-style podcasts. That, in turn, might require another whole level of gear in order to mix the two mics if I’m recording simultaneously…

I think I need an entire recording studio.

Don’t be spooked by the MOOC – Podcast

What is school for? Seth Godin wants the education system to Stop Stealing Dreams


This is a great manifesto on education by internet marketing guru Seth Godin. Seth is referring to the public school system in the US. However, I think what he says applies more generally everywhere across education.

Seth critiques the largely broken industrial model of education that we’re still trying to work with in the 21st century. Here’s a taste:

A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults.

Sure, there was some moral outrage about seven-year-olds losing fingers and being abused at work, but the economic rationale was paramount. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work— they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place.

Part of the rationale used to sell this major transformation to industrialists was the idea that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence—it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer- term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.

Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists.

Of course, it worked. Several generations of productive, fully employed workers followed. But now?

Seth also looks at:

  1. What is school for?
  2. Some themes and ideas on how we could reinvent school.
  3. Life in the post-institutional future.
  4. The problems with mass produced schooling and creating compliant worker drones.
  5. Why the hacker attitude is good.
  6. The coming meltdown in higher education
  7. His take on homeschooling (it’s not for everyone – see point 121)
  8. The two pillars of a future-proof education

I’ll stop on that last one… to add that Seths’s two pillars of a future-proof are this:

  • Teach kids how to lead (including getting better at delivering presentations – check out point number 120)
  • Help them learn how to solve interesting problems

This 97 page manifesto is a great read. It’s the full fat version. But if you want the lite watery version, then there’s a TED talk here.