What’s the (Power) Point?
“There is practically nothing that is not capable of boring us.” Bill Bernbach
I’ve been asked a couple of times recently about how to present really well if you are not using Powerpoint.
I’m asked because about 3 years ago, we banned Powerpoint in our office.
We don’t use it for anything. We use pens, paper, post-it notes, notepads, basically anything to avoid a screen for as long as possible.
In my head Powerpoint was invented by one of those absolute dickheads you meet in a gym who do chest bumps and loudly proclaim that they have just “totally CRUSHED it”.
The very word ‘power’ suggests to me an ego maniac intent on communicating the hell out of something. (Hell being the operative word, for a Powerpoint presentation truly is the worst kind of hell.)
MY FRIENDS. POWER IS NOT THE POINT.
I’m going to go back a few steps at this point and start with a different thought.
How do you produce good ideas?
Because we work in a world where this effing programme has become the modus operandi — and the worst part weirdly is not the presenting, it is the thinking.
POWERPOINT IS A LEECH.
It drinks from the pool of our best ideas and excretes them as dull slides literally no one cares about.
Ideas that are half-formed, half-baked, lacking specificity and rigor, resulting in business ideas that are similarly garbled, similarly tedious and similarly failing to transform anything in the world.
THE PURPOSE OF PRESENTING
When I think about why it is that people have become so obsessed with Powerpoint, the answer must lie in the fact that we have mis-understood the purpose of presenting.
Presenting ideas has become something most of us do, daily, weekly or at the very least monthly.
But despite doing it often, that doesn’t seem to have translated into doing it well.
So before we get to the how of presenting, lets remind ourselves of the why.
We are selling.
All of it needs to persuade someone to do something. And to do that, in my experience, you have to get people to engage with you on one single organising thought. Not fifteen, or twenty or even two or three. One. One tiny idea expressed well.
A man in the 1940’s wrote a book called ‘A technique for producing ideas’. James Webb Young — an advertising dude who knew a thing or two about selling. Go read it.
As it was written before the tyrannical rein of Powerpoint had begun, it is filled with ways of devising ideas long before you need to get to the presentation.
It follows some simple steps.
- Learn everything you can about a subject. Could be your own information, could be information from other sources. Just get your hands on everything you can to know the subject matter.
- Work through this information. Grouping things, un-grouping things. Re-organising things until you have mastered the knowledge you have gained. Post-it notes are badass here.
- Walk away. That’s right, stop looking at it. Do something else, listen to music, play Playstation, write a blog — whatever else your life is all about. Cogitate.
- Tell the story. The final crucial stage once you have mastered the idea and left it to brew. Your brain will help you see the thread, the one great thing not the 10 average things.
The key difference from this method to the standard, sit down write some charts process you get on Powerpoint is that it is non-linear. It forces you to throw everything up in the air and assess it all. You have to make leaps not simple tell it like it is. By removing the structure of the deck, you gain the possibility of a great idea.
SACRIFICE, SOMEONE ONCE TOLD ME IS THE POINT OF STRATEGY. THE POINT OF THIS PROCESS IS GETTING RID OF STUFF.
Powerpoint presentations tend to resemble those weird hoarder houses you see on dubious channel 5 programmes. You have to climb under 12 years of newspapers and over fetid cat litter piled high with crap before you get to the actual point.
So stage 1 in ditching the powerpoint is not because it is boring to present with but because it renders ideas unattainable. It makes half-baked ideas look finished when this couldn’t be further from the truth.
That’s how I get an idea.
Stage 2 — How you bring it to life will be next week’s blog.