Preparing More Powerful Presentations
It has been said that Power Point slides have become the primary communication tool in the US military, and in other militaries, too. It’s certainly endemic in the corporate world, and quite a few folks are less than thrilled with the results. Information presentation guru Edward Tufte’s “PowerPoint is Evil” article in WIRED’s September 2003 issue presented a powerful argument, and Proceedings’ December 2004 issue featured a plea from a retired US Navy captain for a military-wide stand-down.
It may be that, to quote the semi-joking adage, “No bastard ever won a war by making viewgraph slides for his country. He won it by making the other poor bastard make slides for his country.” The truth is, slide presentations are here to stay. Alternatives should indeed be encouraged – but when slides must be used, it is possible to use them well.
As a service to our readers in the military and the corporate world, here are a few links designed to help make you better presenters…
In a follow-on revision to this post, DID will present these resources within the context of a larger framework for making effective presentations. For now, however, these resources can help our readers think about and improve their own skills.
- DID (Feb 23/09) – Sharpen Yourself: Technical Presentations and the A-E Structure. Penn State teaches a visual and text structure that is especially useful for technical presentations, and meshes well with the other suggestions and tips in this article.
- DID (April 9/08) – Toward Simplicity: The 10-Slide Presentation. Bill Jensen, business simplicity guru, explains how to think differently in order to deliver memorable 10 slide presentations that create discussion, rather than boredom or an information dump.
- Coming Anarchy (Feb 5/08) – Present ARMS! the military and Powerpoint. “The military has a hard time giving good presentations. The two biggest mistakes they make are a result of the military’s fundamental (and mistaken) concept of the purpose of PowerPoint. First the mistakes…”
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Powerpoint. Covers a number of different styles used by people like marketing guru Seth Godin, Silicon Valley icon Guy Kawasaki, et. al. – which makes it good as a “how else could I do this” idea generator.
- Presentation Zen (Oct 7/05) – The Lessig Method of Presentation. The author has written a book with the same title as the blog; here, he expands one of the methods described above. It really snaps into focus if you read this, then watch…
- TED conference 2007 – Larry Lessig: 3 stories and a argument. Watch his method at work, as he delivers a very entertaining and informative presentation about the law, media industries, and what happens when big changes hit. Requires a broadband connection for streaming version, but can be downloaded.
- Seth Godin – Really Bad Powerpoint. One of Silicon Valley’s sharper thinkers about marketing offers an approach similar to the Lessig method. If anything, it’s even more tightly focused, as he lays out a step-by-step approach, and explains why “Bullets are for the NRA.”
- Coming Anarchy (April 20/07) – Delivery & Visuals. A couple of useful links, but the YouTube Al-Qaeda brand slideshow spoof is the biggest reason you’ll visit. It’s more than just entertainment; it’s an example of a well-structured and engaging presentation.
- Death to Bad Powerpoint.
Power Point’s Problems, and Alternatives
- NY Times (April 26/10) – We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint. Among the scathing comments from generals comes this tidbit: “Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” When pressed, he said he was serious.”
- MSNBC (Dec 2/09) – So what is the actual surge strategy? Note the Power Point slide presented with the answer.
- Armed Forces Journal (July 2007) – Dumb Dumb Bullets. By USMC Col. T.X. Hammes (ret.).
- Small Wars Journal (July 2007) – The TX Hammes PowerPoint Challenge (essay contest)
- US Naval Institute Proceedings (December 2004) – Order a Power Point Stand-Down.
- WIRED (September 2003) – PowerPoint is Evil. By information presentation guru Edward Tufte, who explains how it ended up blowing up a space shuttle.