Painting pictures with words: Why I never use Powerpoint Presentations

So, we’ve all sat through that speech that went way too long with way too many slides in the powerpoint presentation. Ultimately we squirm, we look at our watches or, in the event that we’ve been fortunate enough to get a seat near the back of the room and the lights are dimmed, we just plain sneak out and hope nobody sees us.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but I would argue this point. Sometimes, or all the time in my opinion, if handled in the right way words can be used to paint pictures that leave a much more lasting impact on your audience than any slide ever could.

Through my time spent as a public servant I managed to get through with only having to do one powerpoint presentation. I remember often being asked about my AV needs prior to presentations and getting lots of quizzical looks when I said I didn’t have any. Its not necessarily that I have anything against powerpoint presentations as they definitely serve a purpose and are often extremely useful for underscoring points that the speaker is making. That being said I always thought about how many powerpoint presentations I’d been handed through the years that ultimately went into the nearest trash can or recycle bin and I figured if that’s where they ended up they probably hadn’t made a lasting impression on me.

During my time in office I committed early on to doing all of my speeches in a “live without a net” fashion by making them all extemporaneous. I did this for a few reasons. First off, I figured that you can’t fake sincerity and that if you speak from your heart it simply comes across to your audience and connects you with them. I also had seen way too many political speeches that were read from notes or teleprompter’s where I wasn’t exactly sure whose words were coming out of the speaker’s mouth. In the end my talks (I never really liked to call them speeches) might not have been perfect, but the audience always knew that the words I was speaking were my own and the message I was delivering was from the heart.

I’ve always admired great speeches and powerful orators. I remember shortly after being elected my brother Andy gave me a cd featuring some of the great speeches of the 20th century. I remember listening to the voices of Winston Churchill, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt to name just a few. As I listened to those speeches time and again over several weeks it began to sink in that these words were every bit as relevant during the present time as they’d been when they were first spoken decades earlier creating imagery in my mind that still remains to this day.

Through the selection of their words and the sincerity with which they were spoken the voices on that cd brought forward visions of planes bombing Pearl Harbor and the beginnings of a race to the moon. They hammered home that the world I lived in at that moment was far different from the one experienced by Dr. King as a child brought up in the south during segregation. Ultimately these words were painting pictures for me and for countless other listeners through generation after generation.

In the end I know that I’ll never be in the class of the speakers I’ve highlighted above as they were simply some of the greatest orators in history. However I did learn something important from them: if you’re able to paint pictures with words those words can create images in your audience’s minds that will stand the test of time and have an impact far greater than any powerpoint presentation ever could.


Principal, Copenhaver Consulting LLC, bestselling author, former mayor of Augusta, host of The Changemaker Podcast, executive coach, keynote speaker.

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Deke Copenhaver

Principal, Copenhaver Consulting LLC, bestselling author, former mayor of Augusta, host of The Changemaker Podcast, executive coach, keynote speaker.