Notice I didn’t say presentations ruined America. But PowerPoint. PowerPoint ruined a generation of business leaders.
The boxed-in nature of PowerPoint defined a generation of students. Teachers across America asked children to create presentations with charts, graphs, and clipart. Slideshows had to contain a minimum number of slides. Everyone had to present the same way. Everyone had to present for the same amount of time. The content of a message was subject to the template of the presentation, rather than the presentation taking form out of the content. What if a story was better told without a slideshow or better presented in only three slides? It didn’t matter. As such, a generation grew up believing that if you had made it through your slideshow, you had somehow effectively communicated your message.
In a recept post by Smashing Magazine, Dmitry Fadeyev writes about Authentic Design and notes the following about themes: “A theme is always built on dummy content and so, by its very nature, could never be an optimal representation of the content it will eventually hold.” Think about those last words, “the content it will eventually hold.” Dmitry is speaking of website content, but think more broadly about content. Content can be translated more simply as something to be shared. And when we allow a theme to dictate how a message is shared, our content – our message – our story, becomes subservient to technology. When technology overrides the natural instinct of conversation, we have relinquished control of our message and allowed technology to dictate our interaction. Think of how many presentations you’ve witnessed that started late because technology wasn’t functioning. The projector was broken. The wifi was disconnected. Presenters become flustered because their entire presentation was encompassed in technology. This is often the death-blow to any presentation. Technology is now in control and technology has no passion.
This idea – that if we simply perform a set amount of tasks, “make our point”, or finish our presentation – has matured with the PowerPoint generation and now rules the boredroom. Yet long before clipart, spoken word moved man to act. What we have lost with our use of technology is a self-awareness. Often presenters are so focused on the presentation, that they fail to understand their audience. Passion, emotion, engagement – these things will always compel more than mere statistics. Even when statistics are used, while the numbers may grab our attention, it is the way we FEEL about the numbers that causes us to ruminate on the topic. Sales figures are falling, ergo we feel upset. Quarterly profits are increasing, ergo we feel excited.
I’m not arguing that technology – or even PowerPoint – has no place in a meeting. These are tools. However, people continually rely so heavily on such tools that basic communication skills are ignored. Presentations become a one-way monologue. Audiences fall asleep. True communication is lost.
In the movie The Guilt Trip, actor Seth Rogan is trying to sell his all-natural cleaning product, Scioclean. Seth is so focused on the statistics of the product and the rehearsed lines of his speech, that he is turned down at every business meeting. It’s not until the end of the movie that he finally decides to insert emotion and make a connection with the audience. He fashions a simple story between caring for your loved ones and using an all-natural product. And he wins.
Be inspired by this clip to break away from the norm. When you present, break away from templates. Think about your content. Think about your message. And most importantly, think about your audience. What will connect with them? What will give meaning to what you’re saying? When we turn off the technology autopilot, good things happen.