PowerPoint: Rendering Your Hard Work and Analysis Worthless

Apr 22, 2023


Almost every time you present a data analysis, your presentation is delivered with the help of PowerPoint. While this is the most common way of presenting in the corporate environment, PowerPoint is the worst tool for the job. Days, weeks, and months of hard work, time, and energy is rendered worthless by this terrible tool and few people see a problem with this.

In the typical corporate scenario for a data analyst, the analyst receives a stakeholder request, spends a fair amount of time writing queries, inspecting data, and putting charts and graphs together. The analyst verbally shares their findings with a stakeholder, they’re given the nod of approval, and then asked to “present” their findings to a group of stakeholders. The analyst, a person that works with code and data on a daily basis and not marketing collateral, is asked to create the dreaded PowerPoint deck for the presentation. Days of valuable analyst time are invested in copy-pasting data into PowerPoint, adjusting font sizes, fixing broken formatting that occurred during the copy-paste efforts, and more.

The analyst is certainly not off to a good start. They are potentially the wrong person for the job of creating a piece of marketing material, which means that the company is likely inefficiently utilizing resources. But like Billy Mays’ would say, “But Wait, There’s More!” There’s the actual presentation component – the delivery, the reception, and the interpretation that also needs to be considered.


The Failed Presentation

After wasting valuable time building a slide deck, the analyst goes into a meeting ready to present, finally getting the chance to bring all their hard work and spent hours to a state action by stakeholders. But they aren’t going to accomplish this and later, leaders will make comments such as, “Analysts need to learn how to better present. They do not know how to tell stories at all!”. I’ve seen this happen time and time again over the last 20 years that I’ve been in tech and it’s the number one complaint that executives have when it comes to data analysts. While analysts do have an opportunity to improve their presentation skills, it’s so much of a fault on the analyst as it is on the stakeholders and the forced usage of PowerPoint. Now if you’re the stakeholder, I’m guessing that maybe this last comment may have touched a nerve because few people like to hear negative feedback, but here’s the reality of the situation. 

Let’s assume that I asked you tell me a story about why a product hasn’t been selling well in our stores. You might have a lot of reasons including inflation, road construction blocking traffic, high-employee turnover - which leads to fewer employees in the stores and fewer experienced employees to help sell products to customers, along with maybe a dozen other reasons. But instead of allowing you to verbally tell me all those things, I put the handcuffs on how you’re allowed to tell me the story. You’re only allowed to tell me the story by using bullet points, keeping in mind that if the amount of text can’t fit on a t-shirt, you’ve written to much. Well, this is going to make things difficult, isn’t it.

You’re either going to end up providing very high-level information, sacrificing important details while providing a list of bullets of reasons for lower sales, or you’re going to have to create a lot of slides, which nobody is going to let you get through in about 5-25 minutes’ worth of time. If it were up to you, you’d probably suggest that to properly tell your story, you’d like to talk to the team to explain what’s really happening. But you’re not allowed to talk to the team and actually present. You’re told it’s a presentation but it’s not. 


It’s Not a Presentation

Would you consider a TED talk to be a presentation? I think most of us would consider those talks to be presentations. In those talks, how many times does the audience interrupt the presenter? Zero. It never happens because it’s an actual presentation and the presenter is given respect and the opportunity to present and speak about the topic that they told the audience that they wanted to speak about. Yet in the corporate setting, stakeholders do the opposite.

As an employee presenter in the corporate environment, before you even get past the first slide, stakeholders can’t wait to provide their opinion about something you said or something that’s on the first slide. Whether it is a needless comment in agreement, biased disagreement, or a question, stakeholders are causing disruptions to your presentation. And with only 25 minutes or so to present, they are taking away valuable time from the message that you’re trying to communicate. Worse yet is that they are derailing the flow of information and creating confusion for you, the presenter, and the rest of the audience members.

After 25 minutes of only getting a few words out, constant questions and restarts to reel everyone back into your original topic, the meeting is over.  A clear picture of what happened, why it happened, and what needs to be done was never communicated. It’s another wasted meeting that so many employees loathe. And because of disruptions and restrictions on communication platforms, your hard work and hours of analysis are now a waste.

This is because everyone thinks that they’ve heard what you had to say, but they didn’t hear much of the story at all. They sat in a room where people talked, but not about the important details that make all the difference to your analysis and presentation. And because they think that they heard you and they have all the information that they need, there’s no need to bring up this topic again. Also, this is where some leaders reflect on the meeting and blame the analyst for being a poor presenter and not telling a great story. Yet, if you were watching the best TED talks or your favorite TV show and someone kept interrupting, it would be hard for anyone to be deemed as a great presenter when it’s the fault of the audience, not the presenter.

I wish that I could tell you that these situations were infrequent, but it happens with almost every “presentation” in the corporate setting. I’ve watched VPs take a single bullet point that was more antidotal than anything and turn it into a fire drill for multiple organizations when it wasn’t the root problem that needed to be solved. While there’s an opportunity for all of us to improve our skills when receiving presented information, it’s a tall order and would require a lot of training, commitment, and practice. Even then, there would still be issues. But there is a better way to overcome all these communication problems and it starts by getting rid of PowerPoint.


Eliminating PowerPoint in Favor of the Narrative

Given that PowerPoint (1) restricts the presenter with the amount of detail that can be shared, (2) creates extra work to make things look pretty for a slide deck, (3) doesn’t allow the audience to receive a full background of information or take notes before listing to the presentation, (4) creates confusion and misleads others when shared with others who were not in the meeting, and (5) seems to be universally hated by all, it should be eliminated. Instead of using PowerPoint, organizations should insist on using the narrative form of presenting.

With the narrative form, a written document is created, which contains an overview of the situation, opportunity (or problem), the details about this information, proposed solutions, and appendices. This document is designed to stand on its own and it contains all the summary information as well as details for anyone to understand. Anyone reading this document, regardless of the department or business unit that they work in should be able to clearly understand the situation and what can be done. This isn’t to say that the reader won’t have thoughts of their own, but they won’t be missing critical information needed to understand the business context, problem, and how a proposed solution solves the problem. This beauty of this form is that it overcomes all the shortcomings of the PowerPoint presentation as a document. But the benefits don’t stop there.

When used properly in a meeting as is done at Amazon, the document is presented to all attendees at the start of the meeting. No small talk, not disruptions, only a shared document for all to take approximately 5-20 minutes to read. During this time, each attended is expected to carefully read the document, take notes, and then think critically about the situation, problem, and proposed solutions. Only after everyone has had ample time to read the document does a conversation take place. This ensures that there are no disruption, no grandstanding, and no derailment of the topic, purpose, and desired conversation.

During the conversation and review of the document, attendees are asked to provide their thoughts. When led properly, there’s no talking over someone else or hijacking of the presentation. Everyone in the meeting has an opportunity to ask clarifying questions about what they read so they can better understand the business context and solutions. It’s also an opportunity for each team member to provide valuable feedback and insight into items that may have been overlooked by the presenter.



Creating a narrative form presentation overcomes all the shortcomings of PowerPoint presentations and it forces more insightful, educational, and impactful conversations with valuable feedback. While the written form does require the presenter to become a skilled writer, becoming a skilled writer is the foundation of becoming an effective communicator. And without effective communication, with valuable and actionable insights, the days, weeks, and months of data analysis is worthless to the organization.


Brandon Southern, MBA, is the founder of Analytics Mentor, specializing in providing analytics advising, consulting, training, and mentorship for organizations and individuals. Brandon has been in tech for 20 years in roles including analytics, software development, release management, quality assurance, six-sigma process improvement, project & product management, and more. He has been an individual contributor as well as a senior leader at start-up companies, GameStop, VMWare, eBay, Amazon, and more. Brandon specializes in building world-class analytics organizations and elevating individuals.

You can learn more about Brandon and Analytics Mentor at http://www.analyticsmentor.io/about




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