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Speaking Without Powerpoint…

I recently spoke at an IABC conference on Six Sigma in communications. A few of the audience weren’t too keen on my dislike for the Sigma obsession sweeping corporations. The “Hate it, Hate it, Hate it” comments really set them off. That didn’t surprise me – after all, they’d paid to here someone wax poetically and enthusiastically on Sigma. (Don’t get me wrong, you should use Sigma!)

What did surprise me were the comments on the feedback forms that I should use PowerPoint. No particular reason. I just should. Afterall, that was what they were paying for! Take notes? Forget it, I want slides to take home. (Quick reminder folks… most of us speak for free.)

PowerPoint has become an unnatural obsession of communicators. We’ve totally lost track. What we have to say can only be supported by what we have to show. What we show can’t be what we have to say.

Bibek reminded me of my frustration with slideware over real content (just imagine the Gettysburg Address as Powerpoint). And Tufte nailed it. You should definitely buy/read/steal (not from my office) any/all Tufte’s books.

Wired also said it well. PowerPoint Is Evil. Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.

“Yet slideware -computer programs for presentations -is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.”

Tufte uses an excerpt from Louis Gerstner’s Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance? to illustrate his thesis,

“One of the first meetings I asked for was a briefing on the state of the [mainframe computer] business… with Nick Donofrio, who was then running the System /390 business. [I] found Nick, and we got started. Sort of.

At that time, the standard format of any important IBM meeting was a presentation using overhead projectors and graphics that IBMers called “foils” [projected transparencies]. Nick was on his second foil when I stepped to the table and, as politely as I could in front of his team, switched off the projector. After a long moment of awkward silence, I simply said, “Let’s just talk about your business.”

… By that afternoon an e-mail about my hitting the Off button on the overhead projector was crisscrossing the world… It was as if the President of the United States had banned the use of English at White House meetings.”

Jonathan Schwartz, our COO, has a great eye for his presentation graphics. Every slide is just reduced, reduced and reduced to it’s Zen-like esennce. They support what he has to say. They aren’t what he says.

Other great presenters – at least in my books – Scott McNealy (ok – I’m a little biased on the first two), Steve Jobs … send me thoughts on others…

So – stand up and speak.

(and anyway don’t use PowerPoint, use StarOffice!)

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