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Good Slides Bad Slides
PowerPoint does not suck. The way people use it sucks. This article is a light hearted attempt to explain some common failure modes and introduce alternate ideas to make people want to attend your meetings. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead or actual events is purely coincidental.
The oblivious rambler:
This is someone who finds his or her voice compelling and keeps rambling until someone passes out. Typically, this person also takes pride in saying “I hate PowerPoint”.
This master of blinding obvious likes to explain every bullet of every slide. Usually, this person has at least 10 bullets per slide and 20 slides to go through. By the time he is in the third bullet of the first slide, most of the audience prefer being in Guantanamo bay.
The google image searcher
An expert at searching web for images with blatant disregard for copyright, this new age presenter has an image in every slide. He is betting on the easily amused person in the audience who will find every image a source of immense joy. Riding on that energy, this presenter unleashes verbal diarrhea on the remaining unsuspecting audience who are left with no choice but to intensely stare at the image in hope of finding something mildly interesting that makes them want to continue to live.
So, are we doomed?
More or less. However, there are some alternates which can make your presentations and meetings a kinder, learning experience for your audience
Prose it out
Writing deepens thinking. You no longer can hide behind a half formed idea expressed as a terse bullet in a slide deck. Write out your proposal, your recommendation, the decision options, the context, supporting data and the expectations from the audience in a document and send it out in advance. Give your audience 10-15 minutes at the start, to read the document, to reflect on the options you are proposing and on the decision that needs to be made. Essentially, you are bringing all to the same level of understanding so you can have a rich discussion. Leave time in the end to reach a conclusion, even if it is a flaky one like “we need one more meeting to make this decision”. If you feel you don't have the time to do this for all your meetings, you are having too many meetings.
When you are up writing or drawing on a whiteboard, it has the positive effect of inviting others to participate. It levels the playing field and pulls in others to pick up the marker and write. The more engaged your audience is, the more they learn, the more they contribute and find the meeting to be a good use of their time.
Show the product
If you are selling a product, get right to the demo. You can give your audience a handout that has all background information about your company, like how great you are and how literally everyone in the solar system is your customer. You don't need to torture them through slides with this very same information.
Engage your audience
If you have no option but to show slides, think hard about how you will engage your audience. You can use bullets, charts, images and even the dreaded animations. However, all of that will fail if you don't have a strategy for engaging your audience. The easiest way is to ask them questions and if possible wow them with your contrarian thinking (it is in vogue now and is the new term for stupidity). If you audience speaks at least as much as you do, you have done a reasonable job and have not subjected them to slide hell.