The lack of Powerpoint

I’ve sat through a series of vendor meetings in the past few days, and the concentration of these discussions has let me see something: so very few meetings I attend with vendors these days use Powerpoint.

Actually, I went to a vendor meeting the other day, and Powerpoint was used, and it felt like I’d been teleported back through time. So caught up was I in the marvel of seeing a Powerpoint that I didn’t bother to actually listen to the meeting.

In this instance, the time-warp was triggered by the fact that the vendor launched first of all into a description of their company, which I didn’t care about, then their personal CV’s, which I cared about even less, and then into a product pitch. By then, I can assure you, I didn’t really care about anything at all.

For years, we’ve all been complaining about the misuse of Powerpoint, but until now, I hadn’t realised how irregularly you see it any more – at least in small meetings. It is a sign, I think, of much greater sophistication in presentations.

Anyone can put together a few slides and read them off.

But not anyone can sit in a meeting without supporting materials and get their message across. A meeting without props is generally far more memorable than one with. I suppose we all spend our time playing with the pieces of paper, or dreaming about the slides or thinking about what we might be doing the second the meeting ends. I know I do.

Clever presenters don’t bother with props any more, and therefore force you to look at them and interact. Its fascinating to watch, actually, especially when the presenter is pitching the message in a custom way to respond directly to audience reaction.

This, of course, is pretty much impossible when you use Powerpoint, which forces messages to appear in a pre-determined, sequential order.

Practically speaking, a meeting without props means either that the presenter is way, way, more prepared, or is much more intelligent. He or she thinks fast, and can come up with decent responses to any question on the spot.

And that’s the most interesting point, and one that leads me to my next question: where did all these smart people come from, since I’m certain there isn’t an inverse relationship between the economy and the intelligence of the workforce?

13 Responses to“The lack of Powerpoint”

  1. Sam
    March 17, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Oh wow, this is an interesting thought! Imagine the people from our previous company. They would not cope at all, for obvious reasons 🙂

  2. March 17, 2009 at 10:01 am #

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  3. Charu
    March 17, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    I am regular reader of your blog, it is very informative and interesting. I guess Powerpoints should be used as reference material for the audience, to which they can refer later. In today’s world, if somebody goes without any props, it will be assumed, that the person is not very interested in presenting

  4. March 17, 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    Hi James
    Aren’t all vendor presentations just different kinds of theatre?
    In the bad old days of 50-page powerpoint decks, vendor presentations were Platform Theatre, like going to see ‘We Will Rock You’ except without the great music. The script, suits & powerpoint props were standardised and the performance was generally wooden. Like standing on stage and reading the script out-loud. Vendor presentations were a great time to catch up on lost sleep from all those nights spent slaving over a hot Business Plan.
    Vendor presentations today are more like Street Theatre, of the kind I used to watch at Covent Garden on a Sunday afternoon? Those were the days! The script and props are still highly standardised, but the performance appears much more dynamic and hopefully educational. Even with this improvement, too many vendor presentations still lack either the raw enthusiasm that street performers have for their thing or any pretence at entertainment. Nobody ever said that vendor presentations have to be boring. They just are!
    I am rather hoping that vendor presentations evolve towards Improv Theatre. The scripts are dynamic depending on the cut and thrust of the conversation, the props called into play are improvised (better have a great visual artist along) and the suits are anything but buttoned-down. These type of vendor presentation do require presentation and intelligence, but just as important, they demand a passion for whatever it is they are selling. And hopefully about making it work for you too.
    One is allowed to dream, isn’t one?
    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator
    Further Reading:
    Pine & Gilmore
    The Experience Economy (Chapter 6 – Work is Theatre)
    http://www.strategichorizons.com/expEconomy.html

  5. March 18, 2009 at 3:23 pm #

    I share your fear of “death by Powerpoint”, James. Its never pretty.
    Why not get the information you need in advance, even have one of your team do this and brief you, then organise a focussed discussion where duration is controlled by its value to you and your employers rather than be suckered into something little more than a PR event driven by a marketing team?
    If you find yourself in such a meeting, simply stopping the presentation dead sends a clear message to the presenter’s account team that your presence has a value they should respect.
    Maybe send the presenters a meeting etiquette guide in advance to ensure you get the value you’re looking for?

  6. March 19, 2009 at 6:18 am #

    Being part of a vendor company, it is a good feedback as well funny to see how the bankers view the vendor community, boring them with value props and rolls of ppt presentations. We always imagine before the meeting that we are going to make the bankers brighten up showing them something that would be a panacea to their problems. We go on to call our solution a ‘360 degree solution’ to their pain area :-). Talking from a vendor perspective when we speak or give a presentation to a large audience, we think on the legs and try and identify the champions, the business folks who really are excited about the solution and the decision makers. If you got something that hits them where there is pain, I think regardless of power point or plain speaking the person would be interested.

  7. March 19, 2009 at 9:21 am #

    There’s a middle way, I think. I tend to use a small number of slides to act as a kind of backdrop, so that people can see the narrative structure, but I agree that it’s a critical aspect of being a good presenter that you could do just as good a job without slides.
    My main criticism is that people simply have far too many slides. I was chairing a payments conference two days ago and at least half of the presenters could have halved the number of slides and made a better presentation. Why put stuff on slides that people can look up for themselves on the web?

  8. Marc Gebauer
    March 19, 2009 at 11:30 am #

    James,
    Today the art of selling has “moved on” to Solution Selling or Customer Centric Selling, requiring prior research about individuals and messaging aimed at their hot buttons, taking into account their personal and busines objectives, the objectives they have been set, value to him, value to the business.. and so on ad nausium. The intention is for the vendor to end up with their offering being aligning to goals of the person and the wider business.
    The consultative approach takes much longer and is a higher quality relationship sale.
    In these times, ppt used as an initial sales presentation, it is usually a way of bypassing initial bespoke research on prospects which does not reflect well on the sales people. I suppose the counter to this is if the PowerPoint passes the “So What” test.
    Your recent experience suggests that the vendor failed the “so what” test.

  9. March 20, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    Apparently, everyone agrees with me that the best pitches are made *without* Powerpoint. But I love Graham’s point, which is that presenting is actually theatre. In that case, Powerpoint is more like scenery, and you want it to set tone, but not communicate the actual message.

  10. March 25, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    I agree that good use of Powerpoint (or Keynote) is to set the scenery, but it’s even more clever if it reinforces the spoken message in a purely visual way. Not everyone in an audience finds it easy to process what they’re hearing, especially if the presenter isn’t a skilled speaker. A visual (note: no words on the slide) can make a point very clearly without words. Personally, whether I’m the presenter or the audience, I like a mixture of ‘tools’ – flipchart to sketch things out dynamically, slides to reinforce the message visually, a well-crafted narrative and the ability to handle Q & A during, rather than at the end.

  11. March 25, 2009 at 5:35 pm #

    Hi James
    Building on Robin’s insightful comment. I can thoroughly recommend Garr Reynolds’ truly fantastic book , ‘Presentation Zen’ and his blog of the same name, if you want to learn how the professionals (people like Steve Jobs) deliver presentations. As Robin suggests, less words and more images is definately the way to go.
    Garr Reynold’s ‘Presentation Zen’ blog
    http://www.presentationzen.com/
    I can also recommend another idea that Garr talks about on his blog – Pecha Kucha. In Pecha Kucha, presenters get exactly 20 slides, each of which lasts exactly 20 seconds, to get their point across. That’s 6 minutes and 40 seconds in total. There is nothing like tough volume and time constraints to get presenters to step up to the plate (podium) and deliver their material in an innovative and influential way. They have Pecha Kuch nights around the world where you can go and watch, or even present on a topic of your own choice. Talk about trial by fire.
    Garr Reynolds on ‘Pecha Kucha and the art of liberating constraints’
    http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2007/09/pecha-kucha-and.html
    Pecha Kucha website
    http://www.pecha-kucha.org/
    You can keep up with where the next Pecha Kucha nights are being held through Twitter: @pechakuchanight
    The next Pecha Kucha night in the UK is at Southend-on-Sea on the 1st April (no joke!).
    Graham Hill
    Customer-driven Innovator

  12. March 26, 2009 at 6:15 pm #

    How about this for a PowerPoint sucker punch?
    Out of the house at 7:30am
    Drive through heavy traffic through the Wilmslow school run (think footballer’s wives), 14 miles in 1.25 hours.
    Arrive at Marriott hotel, Manchester.
    Sit through 6 gruelling hours of PowerPoint slides for 6 suppliers, including Gartner.
    Leave car park, pay £6:00 at barrier to get out. Drive 14 miles and catch school run going home.
    Why? Vanity. They called it an “IT security leaders” event!
    James, you had it so easy!

  13. May 5, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    Hi! I’ve been subscribing ti your blog since I work in a bank and there are really things i pick-up from your posts.
    This post on presentation reminds me of a local speaker her in the Philippines, his name is Francis Kong. He is quite in demand and is always fully booked year round.
    I have attended on of his seminars he did in the bank – “Leadership in Difficult Times” and indeed he was the first and only speaker who did not have any visual aids or handouts. However, everybody was attentive and interested in everything that he says. And yes – he asks his audience to interact.
    Thanks and you have a great blog!

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