“Presentations are just a waste of time.”
“Can’t we do something other than another long, boring, presentation?”
“We should just ban Powerpoint.”
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone complain about Powerpoint, or presentations, I’d be rich enough to quit work and stop blogging. 🙂 Isn’t it about time we were honest with ourselves, though? Isn’t it about time we told the truth about this particular problem? Blaming Powerpoint for bad presentations is like blaming word processors for badly written books.
The problem isn’t Powerpoint. The problem is the person you see every morning looking at you in the mirror. The problem isn’t the tool, it’s that we stink at organizing and presenting our thoughts in any sort of reasonable way. So let’s talk about how to build a better presentation.
To begin: forget everything you’ve ever read in a book about making elevator pitches, making a presentation that impacts, with dash, flair, or whatever. There is a set of presentations that present as a story, with flair and dash, and there is another set that just doesn’t.
As an example, I was the Routing Protocols SGM for Cisco Live for many years. One thing I noticed is that, within the routing group of presentations, troubleshooting presentations always get better scores than deployment or theory presentations. Across a wide array of speakers, and a wide array of topics, troubleshooting lends itself to “telling a story,” while also diving into details people like to hear — so they tend to score well. Presentations that present information on operation, configuration, or design, tend to score less well, no matter who presents them, and no matter what the specific technology is. So there will be things that will present well, and there are things that won’t. If you were a professional speaker, you could, perhaps, only decide to tell stories that people want to hear, and hence present yourself as the best presenter who’s ever lived. Back in the real world, we don’t often have the choice of what we present — there is material that must be communicated to a wide audience, so we present it.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think seriously about the flow of a presentation — in fact, the flow is probably the most important element of any presentation, no matter what it’s about. It’s often best to build each section of the presentation as a separate subset, then rearrange in every way possible to see what works well. Often getting the flow right is a matter of experience. I can’t tell you how to build a flow that works, I can only tell you what doesn’t (or won’t) work. One thing I can tell you is that the way you write shouldn’t be the way you present. Just as a book must sometimes be changed to make a good movie, any given document will need to be rearranged to make a good presentation.
We’ll cover more about practical ideas when building a presentation next week—but for this week, stop blaming Powerpoint for your horrible presentations. The tool isn’t the problem, any more than C makes bad code, or EIGRP makes bad network designs.
The rest of this series can be found here: