PowerPoint, R.I.P.

Rooftop manja in Punjab, India 

Rooftop manja in Punjab, India 

I was recently preparing a PowerPoint (PPT) presentation for a client request. They were going to give a key note at a local event. They had already roughly pieced together about 15 slides for a 10-minute speech and wanted me to clean it up, both content and format-wise. The executive was on the road and would review it and deliver it upon receipt. It’s then when I realized PPT was dead.

For those working in communications, or speech writing, this is a similar request. The general ask is to prepare a PPT with a vague guidance of the key message, supporting content and their end goal. If you are writing for a person you work closely with, you will already have an idea on their presenting style, which is helpful, but you should still always thoroughly prepare.

The PPP (triple P or P cubed) meeting:

A pre-preparation presentation (wow lots of Ps) meeting with your client (or presenter) should include a run-down of: what’s the goal of the presentation, who is the target listener, what is the key message and what supportive, and compelling, content can we use to highlight the key messages, what’s the best medium for delivering the message, and then deciding on the best way to practice and deliver the message. Once you are armed with this information, you are ready to build a preso that will get results and have an impact with your message. Of note, the foundation of this presentation is the key message(s). This information is vital creating a thoughtful communications piece that will resonate with the audience.

But why tho?

Discussing the mentioned run-down will guide the way you develop your presentation. In many cases, you may need further in-depth information and details on the presentation. The PPP meeting basics are the minimum to be able to pull together and deliver a captivating message. How many times have you prepared a presentation without fully understanding the main goal? What about the times you have developed the message without knowing who would hear it? For example, if you are a researcher looking for funding and must present your work to a potential private sector investor, they won’t know scientific jargon and may not care about scientific details of your recent project. They may be more interested in results, long term ROI or plans for sustainable financing. The more you know, the better you can present your key messages, as well as the supporting content to enhance your messages. Will you be at a podium, or sitting at a table with peers? Will it be more interactive? The more details you have, the better. In the mentioned example, a succinct presentation delivered by way of talking points with an image of how your work has already proven to be a smart investment, could be much stronger than a PPT slide deck.

The more and more I get this request, the more I want to put my foot down and say, enough is enough. PowerPoint is dead and here’s why:

Content is KING (the medium serves His majesty, the king) We hear this all the time and it is true. Before you even think about double clicking on the PPT icon, think about your message and how you will create powerful content to support your message. For me, this means pulling out a pad of paper and some pens. Together with the presenter I like to roughly sketch this out via words, drawings and most importantly, key messages.

Once you have a clear idea of your message and content, you can then decide how you will deliver it. PowerPoint is only one type of medium to convey your message, it’s not the only one. In fact, there’s many other ways, or channels, to share your message. Your focus should be to develop and deliver strong content. If it is science based, make sure you have solid facts and recent findings to support your message. If it is pushing for improved agriculture production in a specific zone, use evidence, numbers and examples to build your case.

We once held a workshop to engage scientific researchers in improving the way they present their work. It was challenging for them as they were used to automatically using PPT, slapping on some graphs from a recent study or paragraphs cut and paste from their last publications. OUCH. It wasn’t lack of motivation. It wasn’t because they didn’t want to have a crisp and lovely slide deck. It was usually because they retracted their focus from the message to populating slides and leaving little to no time to cultivate their message and finesses the slides. During the workshop they spent time reflecting on their message, and brainstorming creative ways to deliver it. In the end, some of the best presentations were those that had clear messaging and content and no PPT!

Resource-heavy to keep it alive When I worked at a public relations firm in New York City, we were contracted by our clients to prepare for roundtables, scientific conferences and press conferences. That meant an entire team from assistant account executives to VPs were allocated time to create a key message and a smashing presentation supporting that message. Did I mention time with the client to practice delivering the preso and coaching them through it, if needed, and/or adjusting content and flow, based on practice runs prior to their actual presentation? The fact is, many people/ organizations don’t have the luxury of an entire team to work on a preso. You may have no one (so you do it yourself), or one person (if you’re lucky). Adequate resources to prepare a thorough, polished PPT, is a rarity.

Old fashioned is simple and better. Just like a Bourbon whiskey cocktail on the rocks with simple bitters and a twist of orange, simple is sometimes better. Meetings and conferences come in different varieties. Some are big where different nations come together to decide on climate change action and policies, while others are small monthly meetings with your team to describe upcoming changes and plans. Therefore, the message and the medium will vary. However, most times, in either of the above cases, it’s better to just have a simple message and deliver it through you. Yes, you are the medium! Not PPT, not YouTube. You. It’s raw. It’s simple. It may be scary. You may feel alone. But you can do it.

If any of you have ever read up on Steve Jobs, you will know he wasn’t into PPT.  “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” Jobs preferred to use the whiteboard and have a discussion with people.

In conclusion, it’s time to say farewell. Face the sad truth, and tell your presenter, (or tell yourself if it’s you), that PPT is dead. But rest assured, your message alive. Think about quotes and speeches from the past by world leaders that have inspired us to action and are timeless. The words of Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi. Even the last supervisor of colleague that inspired you. Their message is what stuck with you, not a floating image or a slide without a title with a mini-novel pasted into it in size 8 font. No. It was the message and the way it was delivered with passion and conviction. Sure, you may not be thinking to emulate Oprah in your next team meeting, but why not?

Arianna Huffington posted a message yesterday regarding life and helping us focus on what’s important.

Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives very differently from the way society defines success? Our eulogies are always about what we gave, how we connected, how much we meant to our family and friends, small kindnesses, lifelong passions, and the things that made us laugh. So why do we spend so much of our limited time on this earth focusing on all the things our eulogy will never cover?  - Arianna Huffington

Well, here goes. PowerPoint, you revolutionized presentations for the .com tech world we are now living in. You helped us realize that you are a body, vestibule for carrying an important message. A message which is the true heart and soul of any presentation. You let us flash in and out of transitions and create words and images together as one. You allowed everyone from college students to top-notch executives create decks of info and spread the magic of their messages all around the world. You’ve even inspired the creation of platforms (like Slideshare) dedicated to store these slides for future generations to come. You made us laugh with your built-in images and screen beans and wowed us with your flashy slide transition options. You made us cry when you crashed or when you became corrupted (damn bugs and viruses). Thank you and farewell. Your legacy will live on through the content. The message. The heart and soul of all presentations.

Do you agree PPT is dead, why or why not? When’s a time you’d rather not have used PPT?

For those of you struggling to develop your next presentation, here’s a simple info-graphic to show your presenter and help you together prepare and deliver a successful message with lasting results.

Steps to prepare a Preso infographic.png