PowerPoint, the much maligned and misused presentation platform, is harming people’s perception of you and your brand, according to new research from Harvard University. The research team at Harvard conducted a double-blind study to answer the immortal question: “How effective is PowerPoint as a presentation tool and how it compared to ‘zoomable user interfaces’ (ZUIs) and oral presentations?” The results seem to show PowerPoint is failing you in two key areas: increasing information transfer to your target and improving what people think of your brand (and you).
Using a real-world business scenario, PowerPoint was rated (by online audiences) as no better than verbal presentations with no visual aids. Ouch. Doubly damning if you think of the time, money and other resources being wasted the world over. Secondly, researchers say the data showed that “presentations influenced participants’ core judgments about a business decision, and suggest that [ZUI presentations such as] Prezi may benefit both behavioural and experiential outcomes.” Participants concluded that Prezi’s ZUI presentations were more organised (13%), engaging (16%), persuasive (22%), and effective (25%) than both PowerPoint and oral presentations.
The research also found a more engaging and enjoyable experience for an audience with sequential, linear transitions (and oral presentations’ total lack of visual aids), zooming and panning over a virtual canvas. In essence, avoid the “next slide” expectation. Beyond audience enjoyment increases, there is a big reason to stop using PowerPoint immediately — it’s hurting your brand perception. Results show ZUI presenters were seen as “more knowledgeable and professional.” All may not be lost, though. This effect seems lessened if, as many have, not seen the likes of Prezi or other ZUI products available. The vast majority of participants arrived with a bias toward PowerPoint being a better medium, but when they experienced the other options, PowerPoint tanked (probably why Microsoft recently introduced Zoom).
Prezi doesn’t work for everyone (“…couldn’t get on with it” or “confuses me” are regular comments I have heard — I am a paying subscriber) and has limitations with regards to fonts and other elements on the basic subscription options. I find the limits part of the charm, but others find the lack of control frustrating and creatively stifling. The feedback and Harvard findings do seem to suggest something more fundamental is at play. PowerPoint is not helping users be better and help audiences understand more is a huge issue — an issue of 30 million PowerPoint presentations a day.
In a busy and attention-scarce world, struggling to engage with and understand information is a massive issue for big and small businesses and organisations around the world. Wasted time, wasted resources and wasted attention — it’s not just costing money — it is boring your employees. PowerPoint is trying to be better, while the data from Harvard is clear, PowerPoint may not be the best tool for the job.
Methodology: Harvard researchers adopted a two-phase approach
Experiment one: In the first phase, participants with sufficient experience in oral, PowerPoint, and Prezi presentation formats were randomly assigned to create a presentation in one of those formats. Harvard researchers provided the necessary context, instruction, and time to create a short but realistic presentation. Participants then presented live over Skype to an actual audience, who judged each presentation’s efficacy.
- Harvard recruited 146 individuals who participated as presenters in the study
- Harvard recruited 153 audience participants from the Harvard Decision Science Lab
Experiment two: Video-recorded versions of these presentations (from phase one) were presented to a larger online audience, affording Harvard greater statistical power and allowing them to measure the impact of presentation format on decision-making and learning.
This article was originally published at Forbes.