When All You've Got is Powerpoint!

Yes, Microsoft Powerpoint can be a monster. It can be a tool if it is used wisely but many a time, lots of people use Powerpoint, referred hereafter as PP, without respect at all. The biggest culprits are those in the factories. Penang has many factories in the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone. They’re multinational companies too and none of that dingy, smelly, horrific sweatshops we hear about. These factories are bright, breezy, superduper clean and full of people.
But factories breed a factory culture. It’s inevitable. A factory culture is one that means you’re either robotic (it means you are like “kayu” you know, you just do as you’re told) or it means you’re super-efficient (hence, live, eat and breathe Kaizen, 5S, TPM, Six Sigma etc.) and you get to travel abroad on business or offsite training.
Why I know so much is that I once worked side-by-side with these factory people. I met them several times a week.
I had to endure the danger of driving along roads which had huge container trucks which didn’t give two hoots about mashing up other people’s cars by virtue of THEIR size. I had to endure listening to HR people telling me about ‘obsoleted’ systems (dahling, there is NO such word as obsoleted. It’s either you’re obsolete or you’re not).
To cut it short, I knew much about these factory people. And in my opinion, they’re mostly robots. There’s a kind of attitude about them. Perhaps too much of superclean air within the factories dim some firing synapses. One of the main things which they do is focus on presenting PP slides during meetings. PP slides are the mainstay of meetings. No meeting is real until you’ve watched some PP slides.
So much so that the PP culture permeates everyday living. Creating PP slides is easy but most people bore their audience with PP slides.
A typical meeting or a talk with PP slides starts off with the presenter showing his PP slides. Most slides are full of words (big and small), clipart and if you’re unlucky, some whizzing object which supposedly animates the boring text. Then the presenter proceeds to read (yes, good lord, read!) the text on the slides, with his back facing the audience. As if the audience cannot read for themselves (most times they do and then they get bored and fiddle with their mobile phones, sms-ing their friends in silent mode).
At the end of 20 minutes, presenter is satisfied he’s got the points across and closes the presentation. And his audience nod sagely. They’ll get it later as xeroxed copies anyway to digest slowly.
I don’t like using PP slides for various reasons. Here are several:
1) People expect a big show-and-tell so go ahead, when you’re speaking show and tell!

2) Don’t read to your audience; it insults their intelligence and if you have not realised yet, yes, these fine people can very well read for themselves.
3) Put only key points on your slides if you absolutely MUST use slides. Don’t stuff a whole paragraph in there. You’re the focus, not your slide.
4) If you have nothing to say, showing a bunch of badly designed PP slides isn’t going to work in your favour.
5) Repeat after me: PP is a tool to help you get your ideas across. Start with the ideas first and then illustrate with PP slides. Don’t cower behind slides or try to bamboozle the audience with some spiffy graphics, tables, charts and funny clipart.
This PP-mania reminded me of one talk where someone bounded up to me and asked for my PP slides.
“Just copy them out for me, can you?” she asked.
“Urm, I don’t have them,” I said.
She thought I was joking. No, I repeated, I really don’t use PP slides.
Besides, I always believe that the speaker should never rely too much on technology (yes, irony, irony, I do value technology but too much can make us all lazy and over-reliant!).
What if there’s a power failure? Does that mean you cannot talk because your PP slides cannot be shown and hence you need to postpone it to another day? But sure, that could happen when all you’ve got is Powerpoint!

6 thoughts on “When All You've Got is Powerpoint!”

  1. Ha ha ha ha!!! You’ve got it right on the dot. Actually, it would be more effective if the presenter used the PP slides to just REMIND himself about what he wanted to say. After looking at the point, turn around, face the audience and SPEAK!!

  2. I want to know how to use powerpoint effectively!
    Thanks for the hints – although ironically, I broke all those tips teaching my business students those tips!!

  3. I depend on PP heavily in my role as a trainer. However, I have several rules of thumb which I adhered to ferverntly. a)only important points – bulleted that is(less you bored them with text, text and more text); b)plenty of colours and graphics(to cater to visual learners); c)some animation and sound as well (to cater to audio and kinesthetic learners);d)simple, uncluttered template design to draw focus on the message not the background; and last but not least, I always ask myself this question.. if I am the audience looking at the PP, am I delighted by that experience? This is my benchmark

  4. Hi vern: Yes, that annoying laser dot! Most people rely too much on PP anyway to the extent that they forget to communicate.
    Hi marsha: Glad you stopped by dear. Yes, that’s the point of PP – as reminders, but 99% makes it the medium and the message.
    Hi lydia: Yep, yep. I get highly annoyed with those whizzing things too. Btw, how is your book coming along? Been missing bits of my blogging buddies.
    Hi D: We all learn and share and improve. Always space for improvement I say.Go read Guy Kawasaki’s art of using powerpoint. Very good stuff. He’s brutally honest too.
    Hi Kate: Thanks for your trainer’s input. But I know you can be quite the animated trainer whereas the rest of the people I’ve seen aren’t into helping their audience understand their core message. The right tools used the right way help.


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