Zach Margolis


The Art of Powerpoint

Tuesday May 20th, 2008

Let me just start by saying that maybe, possibly, I could be picky and feel the need to whine about something. Also, for all intents and purposes, I'm going to declare that Steve Jobs is probably one of the greatest presenters of our time. I'm sure that some of my audience will strongly disagree, but I'm going to run with it anyways, and get to that later.

When a presenter throws a humungo-jumbo block of text onscreen during a presentation, what do you do? Listen to their interesting anecdote? Scramble to copy it down verbatim? Do you instead ignore their story and focus on absorbing the straight facts? As a rule of them, presenters should never do this. The focus of your presentation should be the presenter, and what comes directly out of their mouths.

I really hate to rag on my "generation", but if there's one thing that I have to strongly disagree with, it's the fact that we have been raised with the expectation of having all the information right there in front of us. When my peers display paragraphs of information, comment on a few details and tell audiences to "read the rest later", I cringe a little bit. What's the point of including it, and, what fun is listening to a presentation if you can skim the Powerpoint and be done with it? There's no difference between a presenter and a piece of cardboard at that point.

Powerpoint is not the reason a lot of presentations suck, but is probably what has pushed everything over the edge. Let's take a trip down memory lane to discover what other than Powerpoints have been the main tools of presenters.

So at the end of they day, Powerpoints seem to have inherited a lot of the bad qualities of the earlier presentations. They are often impersonal, loaded with facts, and occasionally copied directly from other people. So who will save us? Yes, Steve Jobs. I'm sure there are many other wondrous presenters out there, but his keynote speeches are the ones I've seen and the ones worth marveling at. They only contain blocks of text quoting journalistic sources, and are filled with carefully selected words, simple diagrams, and accompanied by the narration of a skilled orator. It's probably how Powerpoints should be.

For years, presenters have leaned on their tools, but none have been as versatile as computers, with their sharp and colorful pictures, relative portability and capability to even include motion graphics. They have their drawbacks, like the need for a darkened room, but that can be overcome with a high-contrast color theme. I think now is the time we should be focusing on the skills behind presenting, and not just on the mere showyness of the tools. I can honestly say that in the few Powerpoints I have created and presented, I've tried to keep the onscreen details to a bare minimum. I will admit to using a few fancy transitions, but usually just a few scales, translations, and opacity changes to make things connect better.

If there's anything to take away from my rant, it's that we should work on becoming more than cardboard stand-ins for presenters.

Tags: life ramblings

Comments - Thanks for the broken link?
Kenneth WALTOR Finnegan on May 20th at 4:22 PM
At one point there was an http:// in there. Thanks, I'll fix that now.
Zach Margolis on May 20th at 4:30 PM

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