VC admits he hates boring PowerPoints

The coolest new product I saw at the Under the Radar conference was SlideRocket. It wasn’t just me, either. They won best of show overall as rated by both the judges as well as the audience. In this video you’ll hear me talking with Mitch Grasso, CEO of SlideRocket.

At one point in his presentation he really got my attention when he put a table on his presentation, just like Microsoft Powerpoint lets you do, but then hooked it up to live data from a Google Spreadsheet and the table filled in with live data. SlideRocket is a presentation system (works both in a browser as well as an Adobe AIR app) that looks a bit like PowerPoint, albeit with some cool new effects and collaboration built in, along with the ability to hook up to Web Services with a click of the mouse. He did the same thing with data from Salesforce. Oh, my. He had me eating out of his hand at that point.

Anyway, this isn’t really why I turned on my cell phone camera. Why did I do that? Well, the investor in SlideRocket was there. Who’s that? Mitchell Kurtzman, now a partner in Hummer Winblad (used to be CEO of Liberate and Powersoft) told me he hates boring PowerPoint slides.

Whoa.

At PodTech the CFO told me to be quiet when I told them that their Powerpoints should look like Steve Jobs did them. He wanted the boring “pack tons of points onto one slide with a boring, conservative background.” You know the type. Bill Gates used those in most of his talks.

I knew VCs wanted a great story and wanted the same thing we all want: to be a little entertained. It’s just that I didn’t have proof until today.

“There’s nothing deadlier than having a lot of text on a slide and then reading every word to us,” he says in the video before giving us more background about what VCs do want to see in their slide decks.

This is a short video, only 3:45 minutes, but here it is. “Tell a story.”

Comments

  1. Maybe he ought to find another line of work. I’m sure a VC has to sit through a lot of boring PowerPoints.

  2. Maybe he ought to find another line of work. I’m sure a VC has to sit through a lot of boring PowerPoints.

  3. I think we’re finally getting to a place where the spirit of the business and innovation matter more than anything. It’s nice to see the corporate take over of the 80’s mixed with the corporate rush in to internet project of the late 90’s start to fade a little.

    It should be very informal and about the best product. Whatever it takes. Business models, plans, and that crap is becoming a thing of the past… and thank God for it.

  4. I think we’re finally getting to a place where the spirit of the business and innovation matter more than anything. It’s nice to see the corporate take over of the 80’s mixed with the corporate rush in to internet project of the late 90’s start to fade a little.

    It should be very informal and about the best product. Whatever it takes. Business models, plans, and that crap is becoming a thing of the past… and thank God for it.

  5. Of course they hate boring slides, who doesn’t? (btw slides – powerpoint is just the name everybody uses)

    You _can_ produce nearly as easily good powerpoint presentations as you can do with keynote, you just need to want to.

    In case anyone ever want to look into how to make nicer slides with more meaning and impact – get yourself “presentation zen”. a beautiful book.

  6. Of course they hate boring slides, who doesn’t? (btw slides – powerpoint is just the name everybody uses)

    You _can_ produce nearly as easily good powerpoint presentations as you can do with keynote, you just need to want to.

    In case anyone ever want to look into how to make nicer slides with more meaning and impact – get yourself “presentation zen”. a beautiful book.

  7. You didn’t have proof that VCs want a story and entertainment? I’d say Guy Kawasaki’s been preaching that for years… I agree with Nicole: Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds is a fantastic book. Bought it. Read it. Loved it.

  8. You didn’t have proof that VCs want a story and entertainment? I’d say Guy Kawasaki’s been preaching that for years… I agree with Nicole: Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds is a fantastic book. Bought it. Read it. Loved it.

  9. Huh? You can make Powerpoint display data from the web too with a bit of VBA. Doesn’t sound like a solid base to build a business.

  10. Huh? You can make Powerpoint display data from the web too with a bit of VBA. Doesn’t sound like a solid base to build a business.

  11. As I recall, both Brad Feld and Fred Wilson (among others) have blogged about hating boring Powerpoint presentations a number of times over the past three or four years.

    My sense is that many VCs accept sitting through boring PowerPoint presentations as a price of doing business, but that they’ll happily and publicly admit that they hate, hate, hate them if you ask.

    And, as you discovered, many are happy to share their loathing without waiting to be asked…

  12. As I recall, both Brad Feld and Fred Wilson (among others) have blogged about hating boring Powerpoint presentations a number of times over the past three or four years.

    My sense is that many VCs accept sitting through boring PowerPoint presentations as a price of doing business, but that they’ll happily and publicly admit that they hate, hate, hate them if you ask.

    And, as you discovered, many are happy to share their loathing without waiting to be asked…

  13. Ignite! the ignite series should be required research for anyone making PPT presentations. 20 slides and entertaining. Watching brilliant folks make sharp points is entertaining, the presentation itself becomes an adjunct, not the subject of the talk. Ignite has changed the way I will build presentations forever.

  14. Ignite! the ignite series should be required research for anyone making PPT presentations. 20 slides and entertaining. Watching brilliant folks make sharp points is entertaining, the presentation itself becomes an adjunct, not the subject of the talk. Ignite has changed the way I will build presentations forever.

  15. Robert,

    Totally agree that boring presntations are the bane of the computer industry and for that matter the bane of human existance. Who wants to sit through a series of boring slides given by a passionless presenter about a subject they come across as no longer believe in. The new focus should be about creating killer stories instead of presentations. This is no longer a show and tell world. Some presentations I have seen are no better then a 3rd grader talking about his new toy at home. Uggh!

  16. Robert,

    Totally agree that boring presntations are the bane of the computer industry and for that matter the bane of human existance. Who wants to sit through a series of boring slides given by a passionless presenter about a subject they come across as no longer believe in. The new focus should be about creating killer stories instead of presentations. This is no longer a show and tell world. Some presentations I have seen are no better then a 3rd grader talking about his new toy at home. Uggh!

  17. I did a presentation for Ignite called “Bad Powerpoint! Bad! Bad!” (Well, I built it — and then couldn’t get there.)

    So I put it up on my blog. I showed it to a bunch of event managers in Portland last week, and they loved it — there’s a lot of pent-up hatred for bad PowerPoint.

  18. I did a presentation for Ignite called “Bad Powerpoint! Bad! Bad!” (Well, I built it — and then couldn’t get there.)

    So I put it up on my blog. I showed it to a bunch of event managers in Portland last week, and they loved it — there’s a lot of pent-up hatred for bad PowerPoint.

  19. Robert…come on. As a former Microsoft employee you know it’s total BS to say “Pack(ing) tons of points onto one slide with a boring conservative background” … Bill Gates used to use those in most of his talks.”

    Point me to one PowerPoint deck that Bill ever gave with tons of points. The only decks he ever presents are public – at events like CES – and they’re never text intensive. His talks are always pretty high-level. If you’re confusing this with the highly dense product review decks that people present TO Bill at work then that’s a different matter.

  20. Robert…come on. As a former Microsoft employee you know it’s total BS to say “Pack(ing) tons of points onto one slide with a boring conservative background” … Bill Gates used to use those in most of his talks.”

    Point me to one PowerPoint deck that Bill ever gave with tons of points. The only decks he ever presents are public – at events like CES – and they’re never text intensive. His talks are always pretty high-level. If you’re confusing this with the highly dense product review decks that people present TO Bill at work then that’s a different matter.

  21. PowerPoint is an over-used and often abused tool. It’s good for some things…giving an audience some high-level points to help them follow the thread of a talk. When it falls apart is when it is used as a replacement for a document. And, as others have pointd out, it’s only as good as the presenter. If someone uses PowerPoint as a script to read then it sucks. But that’s the fault of the user, not the tool. It’s sort of like a hammer. It’s best used to hit nails or pull them out. Don’t try to use it to drive screws.

  22. PowerPoint is an over-used and often abused tool. It’s good for some things…giving an audience some high-level points to help them follow the thread of a talk. When it falls apart is when it is used as a replacement for a document. And, as others have pointd out, it’s only as good as the presenter. If someone uses PowerPoint as a script to read then it sucks. But that’s the fault of the user, not the tool. It’s sort of like a hammer. It’s best used to hit nails or pull them out. Don’t try to use it to drive screws.

  23. A lot of people mentioned “Presentation Zen,” which is a fantastic book. SlideRocket appears to be a fantastic site. As a REALTOR who not only attends a lot of presentations, but is beginning to give them as well, I can safely say that bad PP presentations are alive and well in the real estate industry. Garr opened my eyes to a lot of things that I knew were making presentations boring, but just couldn’t verbalize.

    The funny thing about PP is that it has applications beyond standing in front of a room full of people. With a little thought, effort and design, slide presentations can be used for all sorts of things. We have just begun to explore those possibilities in our business. RocketSlide appears to be a great find that I am sure we can utilize.

    Thanks!

  24. A lot of people mentioned “Presentation Zen,” which is a fantastic book. SlideRocket appears to be a fantastic site. As a REALTOR who not only attends a lot of presentations, but is beginning to give them as well, I can safely say that bad PP presentations are alive and well in the real estate industry. Garr opened my eyes to a lot of things that I knew were making presentations boring, but just couldn’t verbalize.

    The funny thing about PP is that it has applications beyond standing in front of a room full of people. With a little thought, effort and design, slide presentations can be used for all sorts of things. We have just begun to explore those possibilities in our business. RocketSlide appears to be a great find that I am sure we can utilize.

    Thanks!

  25. The problem isn’t the PowerPoint. it’s the speaker. Do you have a clear, memorable story? Is it interesting? Does it engage the listener? Have you nailed the “why should I care?” essence of your pitch? Can you tell it with passion?

    You can’t use Steve Jobs style slides until you are ready to deliver a Steve Jobs style speech. (Substitute Lawrence Lessig for Steve Jobs if that works better for you. Same point.)

    Many people (and some large consultancies) use PowerPoint not with the intention of producing visual support for a ptich, but rather as a page-layout tool for creating a leave-behind.

  26. The problem isn’t the PowerPoint. it’s the speaker. Do you have a clear, memorable story? Is it interesting? Does it engage the listener? Have you nailed the “why should I care?” essence of your pitch? Can you tell it with passion?

    You can’t use Steve Jobs style slides until you are ready to deliver a Steve Jobs style speech. (Substitute Lawrence Lessig for Steve Jobs if that works better for you. Same point.)

    Many people (and some large consultancies) use PowerPoint not with the intention of producing visual support for a ptich, but rather as a page-layout tool for creating a leave-behind.

  27. HATE BORING POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS TOO!!!!
    Most people hide behind them and put their audience to sleep!!!! Get a grip and listen to Scobble Dobble!!!
    EYE CANDY AND POWER COMMUNICATION GO ALONG WAY…
    ALSO TRY WHITEBOARDING so that your audience knows that you know what your talking about.

  28. HATE BORING POWERPOINT PRESENTATIONS TOO!!!!
    Most people hide behind them and put their audience to sleep!!!! Get a grip and listen to Scobble Dobble!!!
    EYE CANDY AND POWER COMMUNICATION GO ALONG WAY…
    ALSO TRY WHITEBOARDING so that your audience knows that you know what your talking about.

  29. The core of the problem is that companies just churn up the MBA buckshot at Sales, when you really really need to cast every event like a movie, people that are excited about said product and have used it are instantly warm and recognizable.

    I attended a whole big Tablet PC event once, and I doubt 90% of the Suit Robots had ever used it beyond Photo Op’s. One or two test questions and I have you pegged.

    Problem isn’t Powerpoint, it’s people that don’t know how to give presentations, which is pretty much everyohe.

    I did a presentational script for someone in Final Draft, heh, like I said, cast it like a movie.

    Gates boring Powerpoints? Not from my view, gotta agree with Mark Ashton. Heck, Gates is a public events master, using images in time with the words, great scripts, varied guests, broken segments. He’s not the best presenter given that monotone geek-yabber voice, but I’d never paint Gates in the same corner as most members of the Powerpoint Abusers Club.

  30. The core of the problem is that companies just churn up the MBA buckshot at Sales, when you really really need to cast every event like a movie, people that are excited about said product and have used it are instantly warm and recognizable.

    I attended a whole big Tablet PC event once, and I doubt 90% of the Suit Robots had ever used it beyond Photo Op’s. One or two test questions and I have you pegged.

    Problem isn’t Powerpoint, it’s people that don’t know how to give presentations, which is pretty much everyohe.

    I did a presentational script for someone in Final Draft, heh, like I said, cast it like a movie.

    Gates boring Powerpoints? Not from my view, gotta agree with Mark Ashton. Heck, Gates is a public events master, using images in time with the words, great scripts, varied guests, broken segments. He’s not the best presenter given that monotone geek-yabber voice, but I’d never paint Gates in the same corner as most members of the Powerpoint Abusers Club.

  31. I hate boring Power Points, too. I don’t take my laptop to meetings (where I present) anymore.

    I carry three white-board markers in a small (3 cigar) humidor.

    Even to demo software, I still draw most of the functions, and supplement with actual screen time.

    Power Point has dumbed down America (if that’s possible)…

  32. I hate boring Power Points, too. I don’t take my laptop to meetings (where I present) anymore.

    I carry three white-board markers in a small (3 cigar) humidor.

    Even to demo software, I still draw most of the functions, and supplement with actual screen time.

    Power Point has dumbed down America (if that’s possible)…

  33. There are two issues here, and they mainly stem from the same problem… lack of creativity. Maybe it’s because I’m a right-brainer, but I have been complaining about PPT & building better presentations for years. Here’s a guide to making a better presentation (platform agnostic):

    1) Be a decent writer. I lament the lack of decent writing skills one finds in the tech sector. Poor grammar, poor sentence structure, poor perception of what quality writing is… all of these contribute to brutal corporate communications in general and horrific ppt presentations in particular. I spent a year and a half at MSFT, and I cannot tell you how many MBAs couldn’t spell correctly, much less use correct grammar. It nausiated me, especially since I have had to fight for my career because I don’t have a degree. The biggest issue is people no longer read as much as they used to read, and they don’t read quality writing. As a result they don’t produce quality writing. Next time you see a poorly constructed email or slide deck, ask the author to name 5 books they read in the past year. Then get them to tell you how many years they have to go back to get a total of 5 books.

    2) Get to know the package. Whether you use PPT, or some other presentation software, get to know the features and then USE THEM. Use animations. Use graphics. Use charts. Be tasteful and don’t over-use them, but don’t be afraid to throw some of those features in that a group of poor schleps at MSFT spent so long coding, debugging & testing so you could have the option. If you need ideas, do some research on the web. Google “great powerpoint presentations” or “professional powerpoint templates”. Take a critical look at websites that are visually stimulating, and try to develop an eye for the design elements used.

    Managers need to take some of the blame here. Many times I’ve put together an interesting presentation only to be told to, effectively, make it less interesting. Get real! Creativity is not a sin. Don’t be afraid if your subordinate is more creative than you are. Step up and let them shine, and if you’re feeling self-conscious about it then do something to enhance your own creative juices.

    3) If you’re giving a live presentation, SUMMARIZE. There is nothing worse than sitting in a presentation where the presenter is reading what is presented in the deck verbatim. BORING. Summarize on the deck, and use your oratory skills to flesh out the ideas. Don’t have any oratory skills? Join your local Toastmasters club and develop some. Take a speech class at a local community college. While you’re at it, read a couple of books like “Death by Meeting” that tackle the subject of brutal meetings & presentations. When you’re in a brutal meeting, consider all the things that suck about the meeting in question, then don’t do them the next time you give a presentation. It’s not rocket science.

    I think the biggest issue is that people are so busy that they don’t stop to think about what it is they’re doing. Additionally they give short shrift to quality. By putting just a little more effort into your presentations, you can separate yourself from the pack!

  34. There are two issues here, and they mainly stem from the same problem… lack of creativity. Maybe it’s because I’m a right-brainer, but I have been complaining about PPT & building better presentations for years. Here’s a guide to making a better presentation (platform agnostic):

    1) Be a decent writer. I lament the lack of decent writing skills one finds in the tech sector. Poor grammar, poor sentence structure, poor perception of what quality writing is… all of these contribute to brutal corporate communications in general and horrific ppt presentations in particular. I spent a year and a half at MSFT, and I cannot tell you how many MBAs couldn’t spell correctly, much less use correct grammar. It nausiated me, especially since I have had to fight for my career because I don’t have a degree. The biggest issue is people no longer read as much as they used to read, and they don’t read quality writing. As a result they don’t produce quality writing. Next time you see a poorly constructed email or slide deck, ask the author to name 5 books they read in the past year. Then get them to tell you how many years they have to go back to get a total of 5 books.

    2) Get to know the package. Whether you use PPT, or some other presentation software, get to know the features and then USE THEM. Use animations. Use graphics. Use charts. Be tasteful and don’t over-use them, but don’t be afraid to throw some of those features in that a group of poor schleps at MSFT spent so long coding, debugging & testing so you could have the option. If you need ideas, do some research on the web. Google “great powerpoint presentations” or “professional powerpoint templates”. Take a critical look at websites that are visually stimulating, and try to develop an eye for the design elements used.

    Managers need to take some of the blame here. Many times I’ve put together an interesting presentation only to be told to, effectively, make it less interesting. Get real! Creativity is not a sin. Don’t be afraid if your subordinate is more creative than you are. Step up and let them shine, and if you’re feeling self-conscious about it then do something to enhance your own creative juices.

    3) If you’re giving a live presentation, SUMMARIZE. There is nothing worse than sitting in a presentation where the presenter is reading what is presented in the deck verbatim. BORING. Summarize on the deck, and use your oratory skills to flesh out the ideas. Don’t have any oratory skills? Join your local Toastmasters club and develop some. Take a speech class at a local community college. While you’re at it, read a couple of books like “Death by Meeting” that tackle the subject of brutal meetings & presentations. When you’re in a brutal meeting, consider all the things that suck about the meeting in question, then don’t do them the next time you give a presentation. It’s not rocket science.

    I think the biggest issue is that people are so busy that they don’t stop to think about what it is they’re doing. Additionally they give short shrift to quality. By putting just a little more effort into your presentations, you can separate yourself from the pack!

  35. But then the flipside, a great story and a slick salesman, can be the worst fiduciary decision ever. But a dead boring one, can turn out to be the best pay-off for the firm. Pays to do your own homework, not just relying on the demo mock-ups.

    Good stories can be just that, stories — that have zero bearing on the real world.

    Things are not simple, and VCs that invest singularity on presentations, shouldn’t be trusted anyways. So he has to sit thru boring presentations, cry me a river, he’s getting paid well enough for his trouble.

  36. But then the flipside, a great story and a slick salesman, can be the worst fiduciary decision ever. But a dead boring one, can turn out to be the best pay-off for the firm. Pays to do your own homework, not just relying on the demo mock-ups.

    Good stories can be just that, stories — that have zero bearing on the real world.

    Things are not simple, and VCs that invest singularity on presentations, shouldn’t be trusted anyways. So he has to sit thru boring presentations, cry me a river, he’s getting paid well enough for his trouble.