Swiss Army knives are incredibly useful tools. Open up the blades and you will find screwdrivers, saws and cutlery. But you wouldn’t want to cut down a tree with the saw, strip an engine with the screwdriver or serve dinner with that cutlery.
In a sense, that’s what we’re doing with PowerPoint, and then moaning about it. PowerPoint is an incredibly useful tool, but like a Swiss Army knife, it isn’t applicable to all situations. If you would never build a house with a Swiss Army knife, why would you write a report in PowerPoint?
If you think about what you’re actually trying to do with PowerPoint and about the context you’re using it in, you will build a more effective presentation, and avoid death by PowerPoint.
What Are You Doing With PowerPoint?
We see PowerPoint being used and abused in different situations. Each has a different goal, audience expectation, timing and format. When PowerPoint is used well, it’s because the author or presenter has thought about the situation, and (to steal a Tim Gunn phrase) “made it work.” When it’s abused, it’s largely because the presenter hasn’t thought about the audience or the context and is using a one-size fits all, Swiss Army knife approach.
This is the deck that you see on websites like Slide Share and Note and Point. The deck without a presenter. It carries your message without you. To work well, it needs to be designed that way. Imagine someone flipping through a magazine, scanning the headlines. To be viral, the content needs to be great, AND it has to visually tell a story. Used wisely, decks can be a key piece of your content marketing strategy.
Walking Around Deck
Ever had a brilliant idea, but you couldn’t gain traction? A point of view to share, but no takers? The walking around deck is how you get buy-in to your brilliant idea. A deck that you carry in your bag (or on your iPad) that contains the kernels of your ideas simply, and visually explained. When you see someone that you want to gain buy-in from, pull the deck out and walk them through it. Get their input, adjust your idea (that’s critical, it’s how it becomes a shared idea). Rinse and repeat.
This is the deck that shouldn’t be presented. It’s the modern day equivalent of a white paper. You will see great examples of these at Change This. Report Decks are manifestos created in PowerPoint and meant to be read. They look fancy, you can pack them with visuals and charts, and as long as you’re reading them, they’re great. When you start presenting from them, you’ll start apologizing (“this is a little difficult to read in the back.”)
The deck to arm your sales-force with. In the right hands, it’s an artful conversation, a blend of what you do and the story of your brand. Most importantly, it starts a dialogue with your customer. A conversation where you do half (or less) of the talking. It has all the right markers to tee up insights and provocative questions that get them talking about them, allowing you to paint yourself into that picture.
Ever snoozed through a day of training you didn’t need? Bombarded with information on product features, functions and selling points? Wouldn’t you rather learn? If a presenter (or trainer) has their training deck together and it’s oriented to learning, they avoid presenting a confusing collection of topics, especially those that can be found in a company manual. It’s entertaining, informative, simple to grasp, and above all, puts things in the audience’s context.
The PowerPoint deck that’s used to manage and report on the state of your business. It’s a mix of strategy, data, results, and any initiatives you’re taking. Typically you’re presenting this to your boss, your bosses’s boss, or a board. They want to know if the business is in safe hands. They want to know what the current state is. They want to hear any alarm bells that should be raised. They want to know the future of the business. This is the deck to do it.
This is your time to shine, with an audience of three hundred colleagues and influencers in your industry. You’re the main conference speaker, and it’s time to put your business on stage. You’re aiming for a wow, and it’s not just the fresh perspective and your snappy speaking style that will do it. A blend of entertainment, insight and visual bravura from you and your deck will carry the day.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.