The future of presentations isn't slides

StepTree is a paradigm shift away from confusing slides towards a format designed to be understood

Avatar of Paolo Holganza Paolo Holganza on September 12, 2018

Death by Powerpoint is real1. We’ve all experienced this: you’re in a dark room, you’re presented with a busy slide, you try your best to stay focused, but slowly your eyes glaze over and next thing you know, you feel completely confused.

We often blame the presenters, or sometimes we blame ourselves, but here at StepTree, we believe that the problem is neither the audience nor the presenter, it’s slides.

The problem with slides

blank canvas 800x487

Slides have been the staple of presentation software since their inception. It’s the basic building block you’re given in every presentation software. A blank canvas for you to fill with your content.

The blank canvas leads to disaster

bad slides 800x487

What is the point of a good slide? Above all else, it is to help you get your message across. Is giving a blank canvas to the presenters the best way to achieve that goal?

No, just look at the familiar picture above. When given a blank canvas most presenters try to fill up the empty space. Most of the provided slide templates do the exact same thing. The results are slides that are filled to the brim with information.

To make matters worse, when given a blank canvas, so many of us spend hours fiddling with fonts and layouts to make slides look ‘nice’.

Instead of trying to clearly present their message, slides lead presenters to focus on how their slides look. Is it any wonder the average slide confuses audiences?

Slides bury the story

This leads us to the real reason slides confuse your audience. Slides put so much emphasis on the ‘look’ of your presentation, they bury the most important part of the presentation — the narrative, your story.

In reality, the narrative might live in the speaker notes, another document or worst of all, only in the author’s head.

Since your story lives outside of your slides, it’s so easy for that story to take a back seat. Without a compelling story, a presentation is bound to fail.

slide overview 800x487 A typical slide overview. Where is the story here?

If slides are overwhelming people and burying the story, is it really the fault of presenters for creating substandard presentations that people don’t understand? Or should we be expecting more from our presentation software?

Designing for human understanding

Imagine a tool built from the ground up to share understanding. Is this possible? What would that even look like? How would it work? Those are the questions we asked ourselves when we started building StepTree.

When people explain something to others, they don’t shove four charts, 10 bullet points, and three pictures at you all at once and tell you to read them all while you speak to them. Maybe a computer might be able to process all of this data at once but humans can't.

We wanted to emulate how people actually explain things to each other when they talk face to face. One sentence at a time, a step by step explanation.

One small step at a time, one giant leap for understanding

This is what lead us to realize there’s a better building block for presentations: steps. In StepTree, a step is always a small amount of text, accompanied by a picture to help get the message across. On top of this, with StepTree you only present one step at a time, the way we talk to one another.

steptree steps 800x379 An example of a step in StepTree: some text and a supporting picture

By removing everything else, presenting one simple step at a time, you eliminate distractions and help the audience focus on your message.

The science is in agreement with this step by step approach. Richard Mayer, University of California Professor and leading expert in the science of learning, states in his Coherence Principle that removing as much unnecessary material as possible dramatically increases the effectiveness of your communication2.

While this one step at a time approach is a common best practice among the best slide designers and public speakers3, no tool has ever made it so easy for everyone. With StepTree you can’t screw up.

The power of trees

Earlier we mentioned that slides bury the story. We needed to give the author a way to organize these steps in order to best tell a story. What better way than one we already use to tell stories, a tree, or as you might call it, an outline.

Outlining your story is a well known best practice4. But it’s so often skipped when it comes to presentations because slides don’t offer a way to organize your outline.

StepTree features a tree of steps that helps you capture your outline. So with StepTree, your outline is your presentation. Using the tree of steps you can start with your outline and slowly build it up. The tree also makes it easy to change your outline at any time. Outlining is no longer just best practice, it’s built in.

With StepTree, the story isn’t buried, it’s elevated to always being the main focus of your work.

steptree tree 800x379 In edit mode, you can see StepTree’s underlying tree structure - your outline

Unlike slide-based presentations, the combination of StepTree’s step by step approach and the power of it’s built in outline, guarantee you’ll never overwhelm your audience and your story will never be buried.

The future is StepTree

Slides have been failing us all along. A fundamentally new approach is required, that's why we built StepTree.

StepTree is a paradigm shift, the world’s first format designed to be understood. The first explanation tool that empowers everyone to be a great presenter.

Try it today at

  1. Edward Tufte's The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, has become go to guide to the problems with "slideware", including this extremely detailed analysis of a few, now infamous powerpoint slides that contributed the Columbia Space Shuttle Accident.

  2. Richard E. Mayer's Multimedia Learning is an exploration of how to use multimedia to help an audience learn most effectively. Unlike many other books on the topic, it is based on a great amount of evidence based research. His 12 Principles of Multimedia Learning are very commonly cited by many involved in pedagogy and e-learning.

  3. Jean-luc Doumont's Trees, maps, and theorems: Effective communiction for rational minds is an extremely well thought out instruction on effective communication. In the book as well as in this article, he makes a great argument for having one message per slide. With a PhD in Physics from Stanford, the content of his book can seem very technical at times but his expertise in communication helps to present it in a very easy to understand way.

  4. Nolan Haims, co-host of The Presentation Podcast, has an article on the importance on outlining your presentation. He also goes over the round about ways, powerpoint tries to help you import an outline.

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