Julian Roche says replacing PowerPoint may not be the solution to good presentation.
Famously, back in 2000 Peter Norvig put the Gettysburg address onto PowerPoint. Here, the famous concluding slide, is still worth looking at:
Eighteen years later, PowerPoint remains the dominant software for making presentations. Of course, there are many alternatives, some free, some with relatively minimal subscription fees. Visme for example provides integrated infographics, data visualizations, reports, product demos and animation.
In a crowded field, much the same goes for Haiku Deck, Prezi, Project, Prezenit, Slides, Slidedog, Slidebean, Zoho Show, and Apple’s Keynote: all these encourage 3D, collaborative production, sharing, cloud-based storage, and mobile applications.
This kind of software is also aimed at embedding live tweets, YouTube videos and Flickr images. PowToon, for example, allows presentation using animated characters and to introduce yourself or your product using ‘story telling’ rather than ‘fact telling’.
Its USP is the ability to create short animated video clips from presentations and embed them into a website. The ability to record parallel soundtracks to presentations, so that they can be downloaded and viewed at leisure, is another important aspect of all this software, including PowerPoint itself.
The alternatives to PowerPoint are potentially worse, as they push the presenter ever further down a process of symbiosis with the software.
But the real issue is not swapping PowerPoint for an alternative presentation software, however substantial the alleged benefits. Indeed, the alternatives to PowerPoint are potentially worse, as they push the presenter ever further down a process of symbiosis with the software.
For face-to-face financial training for example, including live webinars and even recorded webinars, the real question is whether there is any need for presentation software at all. For whichever presentation software is used, presenters are often tempted to use dozens of slides, attempting to put all, or at least most, of the information and explanation to be delivered on the screen.
The adverse consequences of this approach are many. First, it can easily block the opportunity for free debate around the subject and force a ‘run on rails’ presentation that creates artificial barriers between parts of the subject as a result of moving on to another slide.
Hence for example delegates may ask questions that relate to subsequent PowerPoint slides, resulting in an awkward choice between insisting on delaying the answer and scrolling down.
Second, there is the vexed question of whether PowerPoint slides should be printed out and made available to those being presented to – if they are, as is often the case, the presenter’s thunder is invariably stolen as delegates invariably leaf through all the slides before – or worse, during – the presentation itself.
Third, it can involve difficulties around any differences, or nuances of difference, between the explanation and what is on the screen.
One of the world’s most experienced finance trainers suggests this as a way round the problem that slides are often still expected, especially by an older generation brought up on PowerPoint: ‘For a day, no more than twelve simple bullet point slides. The purpose of PowerPoint is not to explain; it is so the presenter keeps track of what they have to say – time management’, he says.
An outline of the key points and files to be presented does the same job, though, freeing up the screen for other things: case studies, for example, relevant images such as formulae, where relevant, spreadsheets, URLs, videos, and other information drawn as required from the no-doubt extensive databank of the presenter.
As many younger delegates now recognise, the screen then becomes an adjunct to presentation, used when necessary and appropriately, rather than its focus.
Face-to-face presentation should not be about the software used, and certainly not about masses of slides: it is about conveying information in a memorable, and hence lively, way, hence the crucial importance of excellent presentation skills.
It is what is said that matters, not what is on the screen, as Norvig told us so forcefully way back: what we remember are great speeches, not great PowerPoint presentations.