Slide presentations have become objects of derision, garnering roughly the same affection as tax audits, fever blisters, and visits to the proctologist.

And that’s a bum rap (no pun intended to all our proctological friends).

Blaming PowerPoint or Keynote for boring slideshows is like saying, “Hey, this paintbrush paints lousy pictures!”

Let’s step back and rethink things.

A staple of business meetings in the pre-digital era was the flip chart. This extra-large pad of newsprint perched on an easel and was used to record brainstorming ideas or to share the prepared bullet points the speaker had written in advance.

Here’s the problem: the vast majority of speakers and trainers think of their slides as pages in a flip chart, with no more possibilities than those provided by having five different colored markers.

Let’s stop that. There’s a better way.

At the National Speakers Association convention in summer 2014, the first general session kicked off with an amazing presentation by artist Erik Wahl. He placed a blank black canvas on an easel and then—while a song played—he spoke while dipping his hands in paint and smearing them on the canvas. By the time the song finished, three or four minutes later, he had created a stunning portrait of Bono or Marilyn Monroe or some other celebrity.

Nobody was bored by that presentation. We were enthralled, cheering, standing and applauding…because a guy did something on a flip chart that surprised and amazed us.

Your presentation software is not the villain. Your lack of imagination is. If you spend 15 seconds on a slide that you will use in a speech for which you’re getting thousands of dollars…well, shame on you. Don’t even use slides if you don’t have something wonderful to put up there, or if you’re still thinking that the screen is just a bigger flip chart.

Realize that you have a blank canvas. I can’t paint like Erik Wahl, but I can use that glaring white rectangle as a canvas for my own artistic medium. By using beautiful imagery, thoughtful animations, clever transitions and magical effects, I use my slides to add value and beauty and, yes, art to my speech.

It makes a difference, a huge difference. At the same convention where Erik Wahl painted so beautifully, I did a 16-minute presentation on the creative possibilities of slides. I was interrupted four times by applause breaks—not for what I said, but because I put something on the screen so darned cool. I got my own standing ovation at the end, too. It affirmed for me that there’s a better way to do slides and that audiences can appreciate the difference.

If you spend countless hours on your words and your content, don’t skimp on your visuals. They can help excite your audience…or they can induce napping all over the room. And if you can’t create something on your own, get a professional to help. Most of us don’t do our own book covers or websites or brochure designs, but we pause at hiring someone to do our slides. And our slides consequently turn out to be the weak spot in our presentation.

When you bought that laptop and purchased that software, you didn’t buy a flip chart; you bought a paintbrush.

Make something beautiful. Your audience will thank you.


Mike Robertson is a professional member of the National Speakers Association whose greatest joy is in helping people find and develop their creative abilities. He practices what he preaches: Mike is a musician, author of four books, gifted storyteller, and has more than 20 years of graphic design experience. He views his presentations as works of art, designed to entertain, inspire and dazzle audiences through his humor, insight and artistic approach to the visuals which accompany his words. Equally at home speaking to 2000 or 20, Mike is a personable, natural raconteur who will hold the attention of any group, while giving them much to think about in the weeks to come.