Friday, June 25, 2010

Lazy Widom Series - Cram it all into Powerpoint

This is the first article in my Lazy Wisdom series, devoted to getting people out of their tired, boring, ineffective habits when it comes to learning.

We have a meeting, I must finish my PowerPoint.
I know, its a tired sentiment in most circles.  Everybody bashes PowerPoint.  it's like hating serial killers, there's really no down side.  Except for a couple of tiny problems.

Everybody uses PowerPoint.  It's like clothing.  Show up at a meeting without a slide deck on a thumb drive or your laptop.  Sometimes mouths actually drop open.  It has become de rigueur.  An absolute requirement.  Which is sad because most of the time people have something interesting to say and it's simply diluted by the medium.

Here's a slide I got for review in am email today.  I was stunned, because as small as it looks in the thumbnail it was almost completely unreadable on my screen, let alone projected. And the really horrible part is that the message is very positive and powerful.

But I already know what's going to happen.  This thing is going to flash up in all of it's glory and people's brains will just hit the reset button.  Neurons and synapses will try desperately to fit this into some sort of meaningful paradigm, when they should really be trying to absorb and consider the conclusion that should be drawn by the result of studying the data. 

People in business seem to have this ingrained drive to prove that they've actually put a lot of work into their conclusions.  They feel the need to show table after table, chart after chart, and fine print ad nauseum when we all get it - you did the work.  Tell me what's important, I can study the data later.

Take a page from Edward Tufte, give me the meaning and the data in a properly documented handout that I can peruse later.  I've done this - trust me it works.

Now does that mean not to use PowerPoint?  No!

Anyone who tells you to only use one tool in the toolbox either doesn't understand the tool or is afraid to be successful because it means being different.

PowerPoint is just one tool in an arsenal of business applications.  It is unmatched for presenting graphics with meaning that support what a speaker is saying.  But supporting does not mean repeating.  Here are some tips:

  • Don't use the slide deck as your lecture notes.  It's lazy and people will tune you out very quickly.
  • Do use slides to display a graphic that supports what you're saying.  Think of a map, how much more clear is that then someone trying to describe how to get somewhere?
  • Don't just print out your slides as handouts.  It's lazy.  Put a proper document together.
  • Do try to present information yourself. Try a meeting once without a slide deck.  After all, the people are there to hear what you have to say, not read.

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