PowerPoint Templates Are Evil!

Don’t allow a conference organizer to give you a PowerPoint template. They are a bad practice, they destroy your situational power, and they make you look like a novice.

As a public speaker, I have learned to enforce a few rules for my presentations. I do not submit my slides 4 weeks before a conference. I will not use the organizers’ computer. And I tell organizers that I don’t accept PowerPoint templates with logos, slogans, banners, and footers. I will not allow anyone to turn my presentation into the Las Vegas Strip.

I can be a total idiot when it comes to fashion, food, cultures, and languages, and I will happily agree to almost anything you say in those areas. But public speaking is my territory. It is where I need to be the authority. When you see a doctor I hope you don’t tell him, “Here, use my sewing kit instead of your own needles.” When an ad agency creates your new commercial, you don’t tell them, “It is required that you make the videos with my smartphone.” So why use someone else’s ugly PowerPoint template?

Situational Power

The experts call this situational power. As a business transformer, you sometimes have to tell people, in a subtle but firm way, “No. In this very small pocket of the universe, I am the authority. In this area I make the rules.”

There are two reasons for that. First, when you abide by another person’s silly power rituals, you reinforce their authority over you. Your power to influence anyone will crumble, like a European diplomat under a Chinese politician [See Oren Klaff, Pitch Anything]. Second, your status among peers goes down as well. Imagine how doctors would rate a colleague who says, “Yes, it’s difficult working this way, but my patient demanded that I use her sewing kit.”

As a business transformer you don’t claim situational power to be arrogant or to offend people. You do it because, for God’s sake, you’re a professional! Sure, you should allow people to advise you on how to do an even better job. But when the conversation is about your topic, you must have the authority. It helps you to be an influencer, because people are trained from birth that listening to authority is right [see Robert Cialdini, Influence]. And it helps you to be appreciated by your peers, because all professionals appreciate taking a stand against crap. Don’t allow it to seep in.

No PowerPoint Templates

Sticking logos, banners, and footers on slides is considered a bad practice among professional speakers. Open any book on public speaking (this one, or this one, or this one) and you will see that all experts consider it an anti-pattern. PowerPoint templates are evil.

Actually, you know a practice or technique is bad when it's the default setting in PowerPoint.

Conference organizers can do anything they want with their conference, and with their own situational power that can span the whole venue. But for 45 minutes the stage and the screen are my territory. I will share inspiration, pictures, jokes, maybe even a song. But no logos.

p.s. I hope you realize this post is a metaphor for any professional who is trying to do a good job.

Want to hire me for a talk? Without logos? Check out my website.

Also see: How to Make a Presentation

(image by: Patrick Rudolph)

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/olivergearing Oliver Gearing

    I’m not a public speaker like you, but I am a finance professional and know what you mean about positional power. Have you ever encountered serious resistance when refusing the organisers demands for a PP template?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Yes, today for the first time ever, an organizer cancelled my talk because of this. And I don’t care. 🙂

  • Rich

    I’m a Presentation/Graphic Designer and I partially agree with you. No offence intended…honestly, it’s difficult watching presenters use tiny point sizes for paragraphs of text on 1 slide, or have no clue as to which colors don’t work well together, and not to mention using pictures of their family just because they’re up on stage. Many times the templates are used as style guides (hopefully developed by a competent Designer). Templates aren’t just for text placement and fancy backgrounds, they also provide an acceptable color pallet. Templates are not ALL bad. I do however find many people who complain about PowerPoint don’t fully know how to use the application correctly. Learn to use the software properly! If nothing else, buy a book…it will reduce lots of stress.
    As for the “Situational Power”…it sounds a bit paranoid to me. But, as you state above, it is YOUR content. Advice on how to present your content might make your PowerPoint better. Be open minded and then make your stand either way.
    I do think it’s fine to break out of the template and design slides your way as long as there’s purpose and thought behind it. Don’t just be silly with the layout (unless that’s what you’re going for). Be kind to the audience…use the squint test and don’t cram too much on to one slide. Big pictures and big text are good, especially for the people in the back of the room. Color is good, but don’t use the whole rainbow on one slide. Try to stay with two fonts throughout the presentation and don’t use ALL the animations/transitions. The biggest thing to remember is that the audience IS NOT there to see your PowerPoint slides, they’re there to see & hear YOU. The presentation is an aid to your talk track. And please, stop reading from the slides. Learn the presentation…your audience will appreciate it.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • http://www.growingagile.co.za Karen Greaves

    Wow! I really didn’t think anyone cared that much about these templates. Probably best not to do a talk for them if they are attached to silly things like templates 🙂
    I normally just ignore the instructions for templates and no one has ever complained.

  • http://worldacademyonline.com Victoria

    Totally agree with you – Powerpoint temaplates are hilarious! I also alsways disagree to use branded templates, since they make the presentation much harder to comprehend for readers/audience and spoil the view. Information about the company can and should be on the last slide, no interfering with the presentation content. It is much more effective for all purposes – people got interested, and if they are interested, they will look at sources.

  • http://www.inopticalsolutions.com Ronian Siew

    Nice post, Jurgen. I suppose that in some cases, we could consider “accepting” their templates, but secretly bring along a thumbdrive with a few of your BEST slides for effect? In this way, we still get the opportunity to speak, possibly get paid, and make an impact with that “secret slide”. Kind of a win-win I guess.

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