i will admit that when i first saw tony’s choice for the may big question, i was a bit surprised. after all, it feels like we’ve discussed and argued the pros and cons of powerpoint as a presentation aide over and over in the past few years.
but given the reaction to the big question, it seems to be, as tony suggests, a still hot topic. i’m in the camp of those who say blame the user not the tool. powerpoint allows you to create fantastic presentation support materials, but it also allows you to create really bad presentation support materials. in a comment to the home post, tj taylor points to dick hardt’s identity 2.0 presentation as great use of powerpoint and i agree (although I’m not 100% sure that it’s identified that dick used powerpoint versus one of the other quality presentation tools available).
in another comment to the home post, donald clark points to the slideshare best presentations in the world contest winners. from his comment, it’s not clear if donald is just presenting information or whether he’s endorsing the winners. but in my book, the winners are fabulous visual content ebooks. the difference between dick hardt’s identity 2.0 presentation and the slidepoint contest winners is simple. dick. in fact, without dick, the identity 2.0 presentation wouldn’t make any sense at all. and thus, by slideshare’s perspective, the identity 2.0 presentation is atrocious.
karen romeis points to an old post of hers on this topic for her response to the big question and she lays out great guidelines for presentations. the theme of her guidelines is it’s about the speaker, not the slides.
clark quinn makes a statement that i think plays into our perception that we need a crutch like powerpoint to make a successful presentation. in his post he says:
I also understand the realities of most presentation situations: that people’s attention can be distracted by someone coming in the room, by an email or text message, by a colleague’s wry comment, whatever. Having the structure of the handout and the slides helps them reconnect.
my feeling that if the audience is more interested in who’s coming into the room or their email, then i’m not doing my job as a presenter. the most memorable presentation/speech i ever saw, was when i was 16 and participating in a statewide youth-in-government program back in ohio. on a sweltering june afternoon 30 years ago, 1200 15- and 16-year-old boys were crammed into the gymnasium at bowling green state university to listen to c. william o’neill, then chief justice of the ohio supreme court, speak on leadership. within minutes of starting, chief justice o’neill had us so riveted to his speech, that you could have heard a pin drop in that gym. his soft spoken, genuine words about our futures were spoken directly to each individual in that gym. he cared about me. about my future. so i listened. i listened with every cell in my body. i’ve never quite experienced anything like it sense. and done years before powerpoint was even a twinkle in bill gates’ eye.
on the other end of the spectrum, a company i worked at had a simple, yet ultimately destructive (in my mind), policy regarding presentations and powerpoint. first, you were required to have a powerpoint “deck” (as they called it) which you would not only use in the presentation, but would send to remote participants in advance. you also would then send the presentation to all invited participants and, if you were lucky, a list of higher ups who should be informed of your ideas. this meant that 1) anything you were going to say had to be included in the text or the diagrams of the powerpoint deck so that everyone would get the same content and 2) you were forbidden from using transitions, animations, video, or anything else that would not be presented clearly when paper copies were made. this meant your :”presentation” was simply you standing before the group that was unfortunately enough to not have another commitment and reading your slides to them.
now how could anyone blame powerpoint for being the cause of that silliness. powerpoint wasn’t meant to be used as a word processor. going back to slideshare and all the tools available to turn your powerpoint presentations into elearning the misuse and misunderstanding of presentation tools is multiplied by these tools which, for the most part are no better than the “shovel ware” that would convert textbooks or “your handouts” into a electronic course on cd or the web. while we have successfully placed that shovelware in its rightful place in the trash, there are thousands of us who praise these new tools for converting powerpoint. shovelware is shovelware no matter how flashy it is.
today i use some simple guidelines for my presentations:
- if i can hand you a copy of my powerpoint slides and you can accurately tell me what i’m going to say and present, then they’re not ready yet. a good powerpoint presentation should border on being meaningless prior to its use in my presentations.
- if i’m using text, is it there for me or for my audience? text is there to remind me of what i want to say and then secondarily as an organizer of what i’ve said for my audience.
- is there something that will emotionally move my audience? make them laugh, remind them of something from their past, excite them about the future, surprise them to the point of being startled, something that boggles their mind, etc. look at dick hardt’s presentation again with this guideline in mind and you’ll quickly understand why you were so engaged by it.
- remember, in any given presentation, each member of my audience is capable of walking away remember three, maybe five, if i’m really good, ideas and concepts. focus on the effective delivery of these key concepts and I’ll succeed.
- and, personally for me, i need to be able to have fun. if i’m having fun, the it’s likely my audience will walk away with a good feeling for what i had to share with them. and there’s a better chance they’ll retain it.
as karen romeis says in her post, it’s about the speaker, not the powerpoint slides. there is no such thing as death by powerpoint. death by a boring presenter – now that’s a real problem.
if you’re still puzzled about all this, give me a jingle, i’d be glad to coach you on your next presenation – at my usual hourly rate.
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