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Finding the PowerPoint Middle Ground

The other day, The Wall Street Journal published a piece called “Avoiding the Road to PowerPoint Hell.”  The article detailed an unfortunate presentation wherein the viewers were trapped and subjected to endless mindless slides so complex that the message, which may have been quite profound, was lost via the medium.

It seems this is a workplace epidemic of sorts. Recall that last year, that retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, upon seeing one of those eponymous slides that consist of multiple Venn diagrams with spider-like connecting lines splashed across it, cracked an astute joke, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”

The complexity of PowerPoints goes directly against the software’s purpose. A good PowerPoint augments the information presented and helps illustrate points. The presentation is still largely a function of the speaker. Former Apple Inc. evangelist and current venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki has developed a rule for just this purpose – the 10/20/30 rule – no more than 10 slides, presented in 20 minutes, with each slide in 30-point font. 

Producing PowerPoints this way may prove challenging, but ultimately it is worthwhile because it forces the speaker to become: 

  1. more dependent on their working knowledge and expertise of a topic than on a reference guide/crutch; and
  2. more dynamic as they will be more in tune with their audience.

Personally, I find PowerPoint to be one of the best pieces of software on the planet. However, my familiarity with the program was so low in college that I had to borrow a friend’s computer to do a presentation. He was in the business school, and I was in the arts and science school. My presentations were all verbal – standing before my peers and delivering presentations sans fancy graphics. This was a powerful experience. The reality is that both the B-school students and the arts and science students could have benefitted if the faculty embraced the middle ground. Effective presentations are more than great speakers and more than great visuals. They are a marriage of the two.

–          Michael Bond

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