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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Improving Your Presentations: Ask Yourself These Questions

Last week I had the pleasure of serving as a judge in a presentation contest for people who were using Prezi for the first time. Staging a Prezi competition is such a terrrific idea that I’m already planning to steal it in the near future. It’s a great way to take advantage of our competitive nature in order to get people to engage with and learn the software. And, unlike an Excel contest, a Prezi showdown can be pretty fun. I enjoyed all of the presentations we looked at and was completely impressed with what everyone had come up with on their first attempt. It reminded me how easy it is to pick up Prezi and start making good use of it without having to deal with a steep learning curve.

And being a Prezi judge (I have to remember to add that skill to my LinkedIn profile!) was useful for me because I was forced to think about the criteria I was using to evaluate the presentations. I couldn’t just pick the one I liked best without having some solid reasoning for why. Which confirms my long-held suspicion that, as a judge, I’m more Simon Cowell than Paul Abdul.

You may never find yourself in an actual contest, but it’s important to understand that every presentation you give will be judged. So it’s crucial that you take some time to sit down and evaluate your own work before someone else does. Here are some of the things I considered while watching the Prezi competition. Most of them would be useful questions to ask yourself whether you were using Prezi, PowerPoint, or any other kind of visual aid.

  • Is my presentation’s message clear?
  • Is the overall look and tone of my presentation appropriate for what I have to say?
  • Do my visual aids support my message. Are they distracting?
  • Am I using features of the software for a good reason, or just because I can?
  • Are my visual aids cluttered? What could be simplified?
  • Are the words on the screen there to help the audience, or am I using them as a script for what I want to say?
  • Is the text easy to read? Is it big enough? Is there too much of it?
  • Is the color scheme I’ve used appropriate? Is it going to provide enough contrast for the audience? Am I using too many colors?
  • Do the images I’m using go well together? Are they clever, or cliched? Do I have the right to use them?

Prezi only:

  • Is the zooming between elements of my presentation likely to make the audience feel seasick? (If so, move them closer together and/or make them more similar in size to reduce the distance of the zoom).

Presentation Tools: Prezi For Visual Aids

If you’ve never used Prezi to create the visual aids for your presentations (or even if you just haven’t worked with Prezi in a while) now is a great time to give it another look. They’ve rolled out a new website, a new editor, and this introductory video. It even features my great friend David Park of Xterra Solutions, who was one of my earliest converts to Prezi!

Prezi Video

Xterra Solutions

Visual Aids: Think Poetry, Not Paragraphs

Excellent advice, whether you’re using Prezi, PowerPoint, or a good old whiteboard. Simplify your visual aids and treat them as exhibits for your audience, not as your script.

Think Poetry, Not Paragraphs

Create Amazing Visual Aids For Your Presentations: Mars Rover Prezi

Here’s a great example of how you can use presentation software to create beautiful and engaging visual aids for your presentations. This illustration of the landing of the Mars Rover Curiosity created using Prezi is slick enough that it wouldn’t look out of place on a major newscast, and it does a terrific job of explaining the spacecraft’s descent without requiring any real scientific expertise. Think how easy it would be for a high school teacher (or even a student) to use this presentation to lead a classroom discussion.

But what I like best about this presentation is that it’s created with tools that are readily available to anyone. You don’t have to be a programmer, animator or graphic designer to create a Prezi like this. All you need is a free Prezi account, a little time spent getting to know the software, and some free images that are easily accessible on the internet. While some of the more impressive Prezis that you’ll find online incorporate tricks like Flash animations and video clips, there’s none of that here. The impact of this presentation is created solely with tools built-in to Prezi: zooming, fade-in animations and 3-D backgrounds.

Imagine how you could use a Prezi like this to describe a process that you’re involved with at work. Think about how easy it would be for your audience to follow what you’re talking about step-by-step. Then go create one!

(Click the arrow in the viewer at the top of the page to start the Prezi. If you’re viewing this in an email, click on the link below to view the Prezi in your browser)

Mars Rover Prezi

Previously: Prezi’s Experts Program

Create More Engaging Presentations: Prezi’s Experts Program

Do you want to create presentations that really stand out in the sea of PowerPoint slides? I’ve been recommending Prezi to people who want to create engaging visual aids for three years now. But one of the drawbacks to using Prezi was that there weren’t a lot of resources available for anyone who needed training or help doing the design work for their presentations.

Now Prezi has rolled out an Experts Program to help overcome that problem by recommending trainers and designers who can help you make the most of Prezi in your talks. I had fun browsing some of the examples from the different designers, especially those from Barcelona’s Presentaciones.biz with their clever graphics and jaunty music. There are experts available in Europe, China, Australia, and the US. I can personally recommend Angelie Agarwal at Learn Prezi. I worked with her when she was Prezi’s Chief Evangelist and she’s absolutely terrific.

If you haven’t already tried Prezi, give it a shot. You can use it for free!

http://www.learnprezi.com/

http://prezi.com/experts/

http://www.presentaciones.biz/servicios/prezintaciones