Don’t Ban PowerPoint: Learn to Create Thoughtful Presentations Instead

Ban PowerPointThere are few things so irredeemably bad that they are banned outright, no exceptions. You would think that torture should be, but our own government has found a workaround for that by redefining the word when it’s convenient. Killing endangered animals seems like an obvious candidate for a ban, but every few months I see stories about someone defending their right to pay to “hunt” elephants, rhinos or giraffes. We can’t even stop Adam Sandler from making movies. But should we ban PowerPoint?

A Washington Post piece by Katrin Park (self-consciously illustrated with PowerPoint slides) argues that PowerPoint should simply be banned. While I agree with most of her points about how the seemingly inescapable software is misused (and many of her examples are eerily similar to posts I’ve previously written), a ban isn’t the answer. Lots of tools can lead you to a bad result if you don’t know how to use them. Chainsaws. Nail guns. Ladders. That doesn’t mean we should just get rid of them.

Park points to TED talks as examples of presentations that have moved away from slides (which she calls “presentations”) to storytelling, but many TED talks are accompanied by slides. The difference is that the speakers have learned (or been coached) not to let their slides take the focus away from themselves. And, sure, there are other great products to help you create visual aids for your presentations, like Prezi, but they won’t make your presentations better if you don’t put in the effort. It’s just as easy to make an awful presentation with Prezi as it is with PowerPoint. Actually, Prezi is the only presentation software I’ve know to make people physically ill. Some presenters get so excited about its ability to swoop and spin around the screen that they literally make their audiences nauseous.

So what should you do?

First, don’t ban PowerPoint. Simply eliminating a tool, one with which many people are comfortable and that has been useful to them for a long time, doesn’t make sense. Besides, a lot of these “bans” just don’t work. As Park points out, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates found that PowerPoint was so ingrained in the culture of the Pentagon that even he couldn’t root it out.

But maybe it’s time to take a break.

A PowerPoint hiatus could be a great idea at your organization to help bring out creative responses to the problem of presenting and teach people that they don’t need to approach every presentation the same way. Try eliminating PowerPoint during one meeting, at your office for a week, or at your next company retreat to see what happens. But make sure that everyone knows what you expect from them and provide examples of other presentation software or formats that they might try. Otherwise they may have a serious panic attack. Remember, the only way many people know how to give a presentation is with slides.

So try other presentation software. Or try doing without slides and use storytelling, a whiteboard, or a demonstration instead. But don’t blame PowerPoint itself for lazy, un-engaging, and ineffective presentations. Those are the speaker’s fault, not the software’s.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to create better presentations, this blog is a good place to start.

Katrin Park: PowerPoint Should Be Banned

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Steph Curry’s Daughter Steals Interview, Scores

According to the news, Tuesday night’s postgame interview where Riley Curry stole the spotlight from her MVP dad was either the most adorable thing ever, or a travesty of sports reporting. Some people take basketball really seriously!

The measure of success for any public speaking event, whether you’re presenting a pitch, conducting training, running a meeting, or being interviewed is always the same. Did you accomplish your goals? If so, congratulations.

So what are the objectives of a postgame interview? It really isn’t about conducting “serious” journalism. The reporters asking questions aren’t going to dig up important facts during the interview or discover that the Rockets actually won. These events are more like those press tours that actors do where they go around promoting a movie on every possible talk show. They’re designed to give fans more access to the players, showcase their personalities, build their brands and that of the team. Ultimately, they exist to sell tickets, shirts, and cable subscriptions.

Did Riley Curry help with that? Absolutely. She was all over the morning news programs and somehow managed to make her enormously likable dad seem even more charming. It certainly won’t hurt him when it comes to winning endorsements from sponsors, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Riley is offered a few of her own. She already has her own custom version of her dad’s signature shoes.

Now, that doesn’t mean I want athletes to regularly start dragging their kids to interviews any more than I think it’s a good idea for anyone other than Maya Rudolph to sing impression-studded versions of the national anthem at commencement ceremonies. The charm of each event comes from being so unusual and unexpected.

http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-moms/news/stephen-currys-daughter-riley-steals-spotlight-at-press-conference-2015205

http://thebiglead.com/2015/05/20/reminder-on-complaints-about-steph-currys-daughter-sportswriting-is-entertainment-reporting/

 

Make your meetings and presentations more efficient by avoiding jargon and acronyms

TLAs.001My communications classes always include a slide like the one above because it’s advice that every writer, presenter, or meeting participant can stand to hear.

And because it’s always good for a joke.

As I talk about how jargon, technical terms, and obscure acronyms that are intended to save time actually lead to confusion and waste it, I can always depend on someone in the audience to raise their hand to ask what a TLA is.

“Oh, sorry,” I say. “It’s a three letter acronym for Three Letter Acronym.” Cue the laughter.

I recently came across a blog post from Adobe’s General Counsel, Mike Dillon, who says that the overuse of acronyms in his workplace is out of control:

At Adobe we take it to an entirely new level. Acronym usage is so rampant here that an internal market has developed with employees trading lists of company acronyms like they are some sort of corporate Rosetta Stone.

As an example, I recently attended a meeting where we reviewed the performance of a number of our businesses. During one ten minute period, I jotted down the following acronyms that were used during a presentation: “VIP”, “ARR”, “CLP”,” TLP”, “GTM”, “CCM”, “SMB”, “ETLA”, “POSA”, “STE”, “CS6”, “CC”, “EOL”, “STL”,” DPS”, “COGS”, “OEM”, “ROW”, “MD&P”,  “CAGR” and “CCE”. One of the presenters even achieved the linguistic equivalent of running the four-minute mile by using an impressive seven acronyms in a single sentence!

But he realizes after the meeting that he’s been so busy trying to figure out the speakers’ acronyms that he hasn’t really heard their presentations:

And for presenters, that’s a real problem. You put countless hours developing a presentation so that you can inform or influence your audience. That work is wasted if your audience doesn’t understand your message.

So, here’s a novel idea. How about considering the audience you are addressing? Are you certain that everyone in the room understands the acronyms you are using? If not, use the full words or phrase at the beginning of your presentation before you begin using the acronym.

Your future audiences will thank you and your presentations will be far more effective.

Of course he’s right. As presenters, writers, and everyday communicators of information, it’s critical that we are as clear as possible. If there’s any possible doubt that your audience might not understand an acronym or a technical term, make sure to spell it out for them. Saving a few syllables isn’t worth it if there’s a chance that your audience is going to mistake the ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) for an STD.

But audiences also need to take some responsibility here. If you find yourself in meetings that rely on a lot of jargon and acronyms that could be confusing, ask people to clarify what they’re talking about. Speaking up to admit that you don’t understand can be difficult, but working together to eliminate the mysterious letter stew used within your organization can help make the whole team more efficient.

Mike Dillon: IMHO

Every Meeting Needs An Agenda (But Maybe Not An Agenda Slide)

DSC04780I was happy to see this blackboard welcoming guests to the wedding reception for my friends Sarah and Joey because it illustrates one of the most important rules for any meeting, presentation, or formal gathering. They all need to have an agenda. You don’t want to leave your guests in the dark about what your meeting is about, why they’ve been invited, or when the food trucks are going to start serving dinner. Otherwise people may feel anxious, annoyed, or cranky from their low blood sugar.

That doesn’t mean your agenda has to be a formal document that’s distributed in advance (though that’s often best). Agendas can take many forms, including a few bullet points in a calendar invitation, an overview of goals and topics to be discussed at the opening of a meeting, or a brief outline written on a whiteboard at the front of a conference room. An entirely appropriate agenda might just exist in the head of the meeting planner. But all meetings need to have an agenda in order to keep them on track and make sure they have a legitimate reason for happening. As a general rule, the more important the meeting, the more important it is to have a formal agenda and share it with attendees to make sure that everyone’s goals are being met.

Unfortunately, too many meetings don’t have an agenda at all. Some meeting organizers are just bad planners and think they’ll wing it, while others don’t like the structured formality of a written agenda. But the most frequent excuse I hear–by far–is that writing an agenda and distributing it in advance takes too much time. Of course this idea is terribly short-sighted. Creating a good agenda allows you to use the time you and your co-workers spend in meetings much more efficiently, and should even allow you to cancel the meetings that you really don’t need to have.

Agreeing that every meeting should have an agenda, that it’s shared in advance, and that it’s used to make sure the meeting stays on track is probably the single-most effective thing you can do to improve the productivity of your workplace. Have you ever sat through an entire meeting wondering why you’d been invited? Have you been to a weekly status meeting where no one had anything new to report? Chances are no one had taken the time to write agendas for those meetings. If you find that you or the people you work with are having a hard time coming up with agendas, it might be time to start thinking about whether you should be having those meetings at all. Cancel them instead and use the time you reclaim to actually get some work done.

What you might not always want to do is include an agenda slide in your presentations. An agenda slide can be a great tool to give attendees a quick idea of what they’re going to hear, but many presenters wind up spending so much time explaining their agenda slides that they effectively give their presentation twice, once when they talk about the agenda, then again as they read through their slides. Few things are more boring for an audience. If you can give your entire presentation just by discussing an agenda slide, consider doing it that way. Your audience will appreciate it.

How PowerPoint Is Ruining Teaching: Learning Bad Habits Young

NTEC.001

Think bad slides are only a problem at the office? Or in the military? Here’s a piece by Rebecca Shuman from Slate that describes the use of PowerPoint in the classroom as the “scourge” of higher education–written entirely in the form of a slide deck. But the problems she points out aren’t unique to schools; all of them would be painfully familiar to anyone who sits through business presentations.

Unfortunately, the cycle of bad slides and worse presentation habits has become self-reinforcing. People in the workplace rely too much on PowerPoint instead of creating truly engaging presentations. Teachers and students adopt the technology and all of the bad habits they see modeled in business. Newly minted graduates find jobs and bring their presentation “skills” with them, perpetuating the Circle of Lifeless Presentations.

Luckily for Schuman, she has one advantage most people don’t; she can ban PowerPoint from her classroom. Few of us hold that kind of sway over our conference rooms. So what can you do? Try to show your students, employees, and co-workers that there’s a better, less bullet-riddled way to conduct presentations. Start a more virtuous cycle.

Slate: How PowerPoint is Ruining Higher Ed

More Productive Meetings: Jeff Bezos Bans Slides At Amazon

Yesterday I saw Washington Post chairman and CEO Donald Graham talking about the decision to sell his newspaper to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. What really caught my attention was his explanation that he felt good about the sale partly because Bezos believes in writing:

He’s a reader and he’s a writer. Unusually, out at Amazon, meetings don’t start with slide presentations or PowerPoints. At Jeff’s request, they start with whoever convenes the meeting writing an essay. The first 10 minutes, everybody sits down and reads what the person convening the meeting wrote.

Why? Because he thinks writing requires thought. So that is a little tribute to the power of the written word.

I have no way of knowing if it’s true that PowerPoint is banned from the beginning of all meetings at Amazon, but I love the idea. Requiring people to write out their ideas in sentences and paragraphs complete with context, transitions, and conclusions would help overcome some of the sloppy and incomplete thinking that slides and bullet points lend to so many meetings.

Even better, the idea of having to write an essay might convince people to cancel many of the meetings that only waste everyone’s time.

Donald Graham on PBS Newshour

Remote and Online Presentations: You Need a Plan

Remote presentations aren’t easy. Honestly, I find them terrifying and would much rather stand up and speak in front of a huge crowd than try to train two people on a conference call. You lose so much of your ability to connect with an audience that it often feels like you’re speaking into a void, and there are seemingly infinite technical issues that can go badly, embarrassingly, wrong.

The last time I reluctantly agreed to do remote training my co-presenter kept getting dropped from the call, he spent most of his time offline dealing with the telecom operator, and the presentation software kept randomly advancing my slides. Needless to say, it’s challenging to provide decent training in a situation like that, especially when you’re supposed to be teaching people how to give better presentations.

Let’s hope we can all learn from other peoples’ failures.

This article from Slate describes how a similar situation, an online class called Fundamentals of Online Education, went awry in horrifying, yet predictable, ways. But while my disaster happened with an audience of about 100, this one unfolded in front of more than 40,000 people who had signed up to learn how to successfully deliver classes like the one they were trying to attend.

Unfortunately, experiences like these will continue to be common. Despite the fact that live meetings, training, and presentations are undoubtedly more effective, tight budgets for travel and training mean that more and more of our interactions will be driven to the web. So how are you supposed to make them effective? First of all, you need to have a plan. As one attendee commented on the Fundamentals of Online Education class:

It was not technical issues that derailed this course [which was a symptom], it is the underlying philosophy that many institutions still hold onto—that a MOOC is similar to, or the same as, a course in a traditional face-to-face classroom, and it can be successful using the same structure, same content and similar instructional methods. MOOC courses offered through Cousera and other such platforms, often appear modified to ‘fit’ into a course experience on the Web, albeit with thousands of students.

In other words, you can’t treat a remote class or presentation the same way you would a live one. You have to have a plan for how you’re going to use the technology, how you’re going to overcome the distance between yourself and the audience in order to engage them, what you’re going to do if 40,000 people sign up. Remote presentations create a very different set of challenges than live ones, and you’re going to have to work harder if you want to make them successful.

BulletProof is here to help.

BulletProof Presentations

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/02/05/mooc_meltdown_coursera_course_on_fundamentals_of_online_education_ends_in.html