Saturday, October 17, 2009

Don’t hate the PowerPointers

bergenmccarthy In the twenty-odd years since it’s creation, PowerPoint backdrops have become every speaker’s Charlie McCarthy.

Intended to give life and structure to status updates and sales pitches, the slide deck has, instead, become a wooden accompaniment to listless recitations in meeting rooms and lecture halls.  The dreadful examples filling SlideShare are enough to make me yearn for a return to acetates.

Many commentators blame the tool, but it can clearly be tamed.  My B-school gave us a half-day’s training with a whiz from McKinsey who taught us to storyboard, use action-titles, and adopt balanced color and graphics. Clif Atkinson makes similar arguments in Beyond Bullet Points tutorials.  The result better  illustrates a talk instead of simply repeating it.


Alternatively, Saachi & Saachi recommend bold graphics and high-contrast messaging.  These grab attention, but I’ve found that they require perfect timing an coordination to be effective.  Also, overused, they get tiresome fast.


And they still don’t solve the fundamental problem of the the way that speakers interact with their slides.

Instead, return to Edgar Bergan’s interactions with Charlie.  The interaction is a dialog, straight man vs witty rejoinder, lead-in vs. double entendre.  The best speakers have a similar relationship to their background material. It doesn’t just support the story, it joins them in the narrative of telling it.

Seth Godin has few words or animations in his slides, but uses them as an ongoing commentary on his ideas.  Famously, Steve Jobs uses his slides as tease and tells, foreshadowing then revealing the reality behind his spoken reflections.  There’s a real rapport between the men and the medium.

Creative or gifted amateurs can sometimes do almost as well or, failing that, at least provide some entertainment in trying.  Pecha Kutcha night, 20 slides, 20 seconds each, returns to Maastricht this Tuesday evening.  A dozen presenters will try their luck: it’s a bit of a poetry slam in  execution, but makes for a fun evening. 

…and you can learn a lot about how to give a presentation watching people tell their stories, accompanied by a tight set of images.


patti said...

I much prefer an interactive whiteboard. But teaching is different from speaking. And, of course I've seen teachers use power point on their smartboards.

And I was at an auction yesterday where a Charlie McCarthy 1940's reproduction was up for bid. It went for $8. I did not bid, clowns, puppets, and dummies give me the creeps.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for the tip about the Pecha Kucha Night in Maastricht. According to there also seems to be an Eindhoven group which is not-so-active at the moment.

I work in academia, so presentations are always the standard 20-30 min Powerpoint-with-lots-of-text-fest. I'm currently looking for different ways of doing presentations, in particular shorter presentations, so myself and my colleagues are exposed to different styles. After looking at some of the videos on the Maastricht PK website, I'm thinking it might be a useful technique for our next research day.

- Nicole

Dave Hampton said...

Thanks for your notes!

Patti, I've never used an interactive Whiteboard, I'll have to explore one. I have avoided scrolling acetates and my handwriting is too poor for students when I use markers. One-on-one, I tend to sketch as I talk on blank pieces of paper: I suppose that a medicum that supports that kind of expression would best fit my style.

Nicole, I'm going to attend tomorrow night, so I'll let you know how it goes. I admire the people doing it outside of their native language: even though most have notes to speak from, they do it with wit and charm that crosses their occasional struggles with language. Some day, I hope I have the same courage to try one in Dutch!

Bernd said...

Hi Dave,

Why not make your PP-presentation interactive via mobile phone? Let the audience vote or ask questions? Make it much more interesting.
Downside is it costs something.

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, Bernd,

Thanks for the link: this is completely new to me. It does look interesting: I'll give it a try and let you know how it goes!