Do I really need slides?

by Phil Waknell

The success of PowerPoint in taking over corporate communication has led to one major problem: it is now the default way people present. If your boss asks you: “Have you prepared your presentation?” what she really means is: “Have you prepared your PowerPoint® slides?”

This means that presenters automatically assume that they will use PowerPoint® slides, and do not even consider that there may be other possibilities.

Ask yourself, for each point in your presentation: does my audience really need any visual aids? Don’t assume they do. I’ve worked on TEDx talks where a speaker has produced some very good slides, but when I’ve ended up convincing him that his audience doesn’t need them, and would do better without them. In my own TEDx talk, there are parts where I now think I’d have done better not to have slides on the screen. In most sales presentations, slides are just a barrier: it’s better to have a conversation.

If you decide that your audience will benefit from some kind of visual aids, you should then ask yourself whether you can use a physical action to illustrate what you are saying. This could mean doing something with your hands, or an object, like Steve Jobs pulling an iPod Nano from the smallest pocket of his jeans.

People remember what you do far better than what you project, even if your slides are great.

If there’s no suitable object or action for this point, the next question should be: would a flip-chart or whiteboard (or similar modern media like smartboards or a Zoom whiteboard) be a good way to illustrate what I am saying?

If the answer is no, then and only then should you consider using slides. Since you are giving suitable handouts anyway (right?), you do not need to produce slides for your audience to take away. You only need them if they help to make what you are saying easier or quicker to understand, and/or more memorable.

The key with any tool is knowing when not to use it. If you only have a hammer, you’ll treat everything like a nail; if you assume you are going to use PowerPoint, then you restrict yourself to one illustration method when other choices may be better, and the right choice may be no visual aids at all.

This article contains extracts from Business Presentation Revolution, by Phil Waknell, published July 2021. Get the introduction free today at