Better Presentations

Cliff Atkinson’s apprpriately named blog on Powerpoint (Beyond Bullets) has a post about an interview with John Seely Brown. Excerpts:

PowerPoint slides are very, very bad, as currently used, to tell good stories, and theyre very bad in terms of laying out a complex argument. Complex arguments are often non-linear. The beauty of the well-structured office memo is that you can start to see different pieces of the argument and how they come together. You may want to go back and review some of the assumptions that went into that line of the argument. Often an argument has 3 or 4 lines that come together its called proof by case in mathematics. Very few interesting mathematical proofs are ever linear arguments.

A story is more than an argument. A story is an argument that understands not only logic denotation but also connation. Stories are interesting vehicles for carrying very complex arguments. The plus of the story is you remember it, but the minus is that it does turn on rhetorical power. I can tell you a story that, because of the emotional side, will overwhelm your ability to really examine the logic. What you ideally want is to understand the logic, understand the data, and understand the stories that can carry the logic and data together.

I could argue that I couldnt make this happen with PowerPoint. You dont make it happen by using the tools PowerPoint uses to structure. The first thing to do is turn off everything I work only with blank slates and none of their wizards I wouldn’t touch any of that stuff.

Youre going to see PowerPoint evolve as people discover the ability to enact sub-genres. It is also the opportunity to make these things much richer in terms of their media, to use a sequence of images with a very small amount of text. I was recently at a board presentation at a company that always used the old PowerPoint slides, or didnt use slides at all. A subgroup experimented with using images that told the story. They had images with very, very simple titles on them, and they had very interesting, well-thought through text that they spoke, and improvised. So suddenly these images were the backdrop that set the context.

When I say my slides are evocative objects, theyre meant to be the background. I will take the same set of background slides and improvise completely different stories around them. But just like you know in normal text, theres an artwork in terms of having the graphics support the text.

A lot of people just throw in random graphics like clipart. Thats part of the idiom that drives people crazy no one has tailored the graphics to help support the argument. Few people understand how to have the text and the graphics really interact right. In the design of a magazine, there should be a tremendous amount of care to have the graphics support a scaffolding that helps support the text.

A strategy to most corporations is something that fits on a 3×5 card. A story never does. A story touches me emotionally; a story I cant forget. A story carries nuances in the particular that help portray what the general is. Strategic positioning inverts almost every one of those. And in fact the most common thing we hear in an organization is that those who worked on the positioning statement see tremendous meaning in those words; but those who receive the corporate positioning statement see only B.S.

If you look now at most magazines, youll find almost no real deep thinking about how to capture an image, how the caption under an image helps the image, and how the caption plus the image helps the text. Its almost like a rote activity. People dont understand how the reader has to construct an understanding for him or herself, from the bits of information on the page, or on the PowerPoint slide.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.