In response to my post the best presentation…, Jürgen Ahting makes a good point, in reminding us of Paul Graham’s words that Powerpoint’s role is often “to overcome people’s fear of public speaking”.
While that’s sadly true, I think Seth is looking at the situation from the other point of view: most audiences prefer not to be Powerpointed. Particularly when the presenter is afraid of something. We’ve all done it, particularly as it’s the accepted wisdom: If in doubt, write some slides. I know I’ve sat through really crap presentations, bored and/or bewildered, only to unwittingly inflict exactly the same kind of thing on an audience the very next week.
Sure, being able to present without that prop is a challenge, but shouldn’t we try? Besides, how often has powerpoint made someone look as if they know more than they really do? And how often has the real message been lost in the time spent on making the slides look slick?
Seth offers a compelling alternative. Don’t be a “presenter” or “speaker”, whose aim is to tell people stuff. Be an “expert” or a “facilitator”, whose role is to engage, dialogue and learn. Different skills, but less like the dreaded public speaking. Not necessarily applicable in all circumstances, but always worth considering.
I believe reliance on Powerpoint weakens people’s presentation and dialogue skills, and diminishes the communication they might otherwise have with their colleagues and peers. It certainly has a place in the toolkit, but I wish more people would try to live without it just once in a while.
In the best presentation Seth Godin suggests we give up on trying to “present”, and instead engage the audience in a completely unscripted dialogue. I do like this approach, and in an agile software context we don’t even need to hire Seth’s mate to sit in the audience and feed the first question. Because running the session as a complete agile project works very well indeed.
Garr Reynolds tells a story of his own to illustrate Seth’s point, describing the experience as more of a “fireside chat” than a presentation. Garr recalls that “even the best PowerPoint slides in the world would have been a barrier between me and the audience”.
Frank Carver (among others) points out this really cool way to do slide presentations in your browser. At first glance, though, it seems to promote the bullet-list kind of presentation that I (and Cliff) hate. Can anyone show me how to use S5 to do a visual biography, for example?
Someone blogged recently to recommend Cliff Atkinson’s blog. Cliff has a very readable style and a lovely take on how to write (I should say “design”) effective presentations. I particularly liked this Sunday’s idea of a visual biography – think I’ll spend a few hours this week trying to make one…