How PowerPoint can help you write a better poem

And how poetry can help you build a better PowerPoint deck–

I’m not joking.

It’s all about the images–and the metaphors.

Poems become much more vivid when they give  their readers concrete images–things you can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste, even in your imagination. If you want to talk about time or despair, what’s the best image to say that? Not the obvious image (a clock or a …), but the best?

PowerPoint decks most effective when they have very few words (you can stick all your talking points in the Notes section) and attention-grabbing images. Put an image up on the screen, and people are listening to see how that image relates. Throw up a slide full of words, and people read the words (maybe with an eye for typos) instead of listening to what you’re saying.

Here’s my example from a deck I made recently. These slides needed to persuade people, and stick in their heads. I needed to talk about diving under the surface. This was not easy. Type “dig” into a search engine and you might not get what you want. I kept searching, trying different words to get at what I wanted, and found a big machine under the ground.

Big digging machine in a tunnel; image from

Then I needed a slide that said, “empathy.” Try typing that in a search engine. I ended up choosing a guy on the beach with a golden retriever. You know, dogs are loyal and they look at you with those big eyes as though they understand everything you’re feeling.

A guy and his Golden Retriever on the beach

It’s the same thing with a poem: You might think “desolation”–but to find a concrete image, you might need to search. What does it mean to you? You might want to say “spring,” but what do you see and hear and smell that says “spring”? And after the first few thoughts, which might seem obvious (my first go-to image is fresh-cut grass) push a little further.

See the connection? Both PowerPoint and poetry are about connecting with your audience. (Brief caveat: Writing a poem is also about connecting with yourself and exploring your experiences–but if you want to share that poem, it shares better if it connects).

How do you find images that work for you–for your slides or your poems? How do you lead yourself deeper to find those connections?

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