Battling MEGO in corporate presentations


I wouldn’t doubt if one of the cave dwellers weighed in about the layout and fonts for the drawings in the Lascaux Caves more than 10,000 years ago. Times haven’t really changed, and technology has only magnified the problem.

I think back to when I had my transparencies, or “foils,” printed for use on an overhead projector. In some cases it all came down to writing with good penmanship using a grease pencil. Prior to that it was paying for next day photo processing to get slides back for the carousel projector.

Citizen-presenter evolution

Neither technology was as forgiving as a last-minute change made on the way in a taxi, handed to the event organizer on a flash drive. Now we’re literally able to create sophisticated PowerPoint slides on our mobile devices and to display them using Bluetooth on a large screen smart television.

This citizen-presenter evolution has driven many a marketing director crazy, given their obsession for look and feel and branding consistency. As a presentation warrior, I admit that I have been in the crosshairs of the style guide INTERPOL at many a corporation.

I’ve always said that everyone has a minor degree in PowerPoint. Unlike many of my fellow presentation jockeys, however, my slide design tends to fall into errors of omission. I spent my early career teaching learning-disabled children who needed subjects presented in incredibly small bites, with simple graphic metaphors to reinforce the more complex concepts. This led to presentations that had absolutely no possibility of plagiarism given their minimalist text and imagery. You literally needed me, the author, to make them meaningful. This boded well for my later career, when slide larceny became an art form for many professional presenters looking for great slideware.

More bullets than a military base

For those global branding practitioners like me who thrive on slide simplicity, it can be horrifying to watch others who view the blank PowerPoint template as the palate for recreating the text and imagery on the side of a NASCAR race car.

Perhaps worse for me are those who view the blank template as a place to put the equivalent of a Word document peppered with more bullets than a military base. I think we’ve all gone through the presentation-crafting experience where we say, “Maybe just one more bullet will fit.” And recent PowerPoint versions further fuel bullet glut by automatically reducing the font size to make everything fit.

Uphill MEGO battle

One of the most memorable days of my marketing career was when my marketing-oriented CEO looked at a text-intensive keynote presentation created for him and said only one word:


Translated, the word is an acronym for “my eyes glaze over.”

I’ve inculcated battling MEGO in my colleagues with only moderate success.  The causes are numerous but center on an issue that is universal in the presentation instructions of most major conferences: “Your presentation should be limited to “X number” of slides.

This is a seemingly reasonable request, but unfortunately it makes no sense. It forces the presenter to concentrate exactly the same amount of information in fewer slides, which immediately creates the MEGO effect.

I spend far too much time trying to convince event managers that 30 slides can actually be presented more effectively than 20 slides — that more learning occurs without slide clutter and with more independent color commentary.

Many presenters, salespersons being the most notable, want the slides to be a product catalogue. The entire slide is the equivalent of closed captioning or a theatrical script. The human is strictly used for voiceover of every single word on the slide. MEGO!

Back to cave drawings?

The solution to the problem is slightly more slides with a slightly increased cadence. But again, there is an institutional paranoia about increasing the size of a presentation deck, especially when it is is being presented live.

The greatest challenge will always be to get the presenter — whether a salesperson or a CIO — to reduce the need for as much text by memorizing the key points and incorporating them into each slide as a “story.” This is far different than memorizing all the bullets. The antithesis of MEGO requires a more visceral feeling for the content of each slide.

In fact, now that I think of it, what if we took a cue from our Lascaux ancestors and just stuck to pictures?

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