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Dennis Kennedy

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Reports of Death of PowerPoint Greatly Exaggerated?

Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen blog is one of my current favorite resources on presentation techniques. In his recent post “Is it finally time to ditch PowerPoint?” he has a thoughtful and compelling response to the often curmudgeonly pieces I often see about PowerPoint, the program, being the cause of the demise of good presentations, communication, and even civilization, and proclaiming the death of PowerPoint is nigh.
The money quote (although you really should read the whole post):

Suggesting we abandon PowerPoint because it’s often (usually?) misused and abused to produce awful presentation visuals is like saying we should dump the idea of 24-hour cable news because so much of it is vacuous rubbish. But whether we’re talking about bad TV or boring presentations, shouldn’t we blame the content producers not the content medium?

It’s not like we’re blaming the hammer for badly-built houses. And, as I suspect anyone who has been to high school, college, and law school in the US might well agree, the chalkboard and chalk have much more to answer for when it comes to boring presentations than bad PowerPoint slides.
I’m reminded of an article I wrote on tips for lawyers using PowerPoint that I wrote close to ten years ago that has long been and still is one of the most visited pages on my website. I find it interesting to see that although my actual techniques have changed quite a bit since then (I like to avoid bullet points completely now), I still use the basic principles in that article. I ended that article with:

While PowerPoint will not take the place of communication skills, it can be a great tool for enhancing and improving your skills. You can learn to be a great presenter through practice, repetition, hard work, study and the right tools. Keep in mind, though, that the best speakers are the ones who are able to speak in a way that is most congruent with their own personality. The more authentic you are the more effective the communicator you are. The power of PowerPoint is that it gives you the flexibility to use your own style and get your message across to your audience.

Reynolds’ conclusion is an excellent summary of where we are at today with PowerPoint:

So, is it finally time to ditch PowerPoint? Hardly, but it is long past time to ditch the use of the ubiquitous bulleted-list templates found in both PowerPoint and Keynote. And it’s long past time that we realized that putting the same information on a slide that is coming out of our mouths usually does not help — in fact usually hurts our message. Next time you plan a presentation, then, start by using a pencil and pad, a whiteboard, or a stick in the sand — anything except jumping headfirst into slideware on your computer with its templates, outlines, and content wizards that may point you down a path you wish not to go. And as you examine your work from previous talks remember this rule of thumb: if your presentation visuals taken in the aggregate (e.g., your “PowerPoint deck”) can be perfectly and completely understood without your narration, then it begs the question: why are you there?

In my PowerPoint tips article, my eighth point refers to using the technique of storyboarding before you launch into slides. Interestingly, I was using mindmapping at that time as well, but didn’t think that I could discuss it meaningfully then to an audience of lawyers. For those presentations where you actually determine that using a slideshow is the best way to go, it’s what happens outside PowerPoint before you start into PowerPoint that will most determine how successful your presentation (and your slideshow) will be.
I’d now add an 11th tip to my old article: never stop trying to learn new things and experiment with ways to reach your audience.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Learn more about legal technology at Dennis Kennedy’s Legal Technology Central page.
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