Death by PowerPoint

The season finale of Entourage found superstar Vince looking at the possibility of replacing his agent, the insufferable Ari. During the episode he goes to a series of presentations from rival agencies all trying to attract him. Each of the presentations is slick and soulless. Near the end of the episode he realizes that each of the courting agencies sees him only as a brand. He complains that at least Ari treats him as a real person.

Ari persuades Vince to come to a last ditch meeting to try to save the relationship. Unfortunately, Ari, instead of just sitting down with Vince and talking about their differences, decides to fall back on the sure thing – you guessed it – a slick, soulless presentation featuring Vince as a brand. Vince, in the words of Variety, ankles Ari’s agency.

And Ari, became another victim of death by PowerPoint.

Last week I was meeting with a client about a key presentation that he was scheduled to do in the next few weeks. We went back and forth on the usual stuff – audience, objectives, themes and length. He has about an hour on the agenda and wanted a tight, slick PowerPoint presentation that would wow his audience.

We discussed a bit more about how this might look. He gave me a little of the history of the relationship he had with this client and how he had been carefully nurturing it for the past year. It now all came down to this presentation for the client, and more importantly, for the client’s people.

He had not met with a lot of these people yet and did not know who some of them were, how up to speed they were with the proposal at hand and where they fit in the decision-making process. Therefore, he wasn’t sure how far back in the process he needed to go to bring everyone up to speed.

So let’s create lots of PowerPoint slides to make certain we cover everything. I thought about this for a few minutes, and imaged a squirming bunch of lackys, eyes glazed staring zombie-like at an endless procession of PowerPoint slides, albeit with great animations, sound effects and transitions.

The end result would probably be death by PowerPoint, another good proposal smothered in bed.

So, instead I suggested he go without a net, no PowerPoint slides, just a series of questions designed to provoke a dialogue with and between members of this group. Unless you are trying to sell cigarettes as a health benefit, most groups you engage with are a sliding scale of either skeptics or evangelists. You need to hear from both sides and unfortunately, you won’t get that with PowerPoint slides.

Traditionally, most presentations are a one sided monologue, but do they really have to be? Through the years I have learned really valuable things by structuring presentations as a series of interactive questions and encouraging my audience to really converse with me. I guess this came as a result of spending too many hours stuck in presentations where the speaker just droned on and on and I lost interest in what they were saying.

I never lose interest when I am engaged in a conversation – well, unless it is with a telemarketer. Actually, have you ever tried to converse with a telemarketer? It drives them nuts, because, of course, they have a presentation script right there in front of them. Next time you get a call right in the middle of dinner, take control of the conversation and keep them off their scripts – ask ridiculous questions, make things up, talk about the weather, what you didn’t get for Christmas, the disappointments of your life, new books you would like to read, and so on – it will drive them crazy.

Sorry, I digress, getting back to my client, by the end of our session he was excited, already thinking of questions that would prime the pump and move the conversation along. He was still a little nervous about going without the crutch of PowerPoint, but intrigued by the possibilities of this type of presentation.

From my experience keeping the lights up and the data projector off is a great way to build a relationship with potential customers.

Instead of death by PowerPoint, make it death to PowerPoint.

Posted to Sparkplug Copyright © by Peter McGarvey 2007.

2 Responses to “Death by PowerPoint”

  1. Isn’ t PowerPoint 2007 supposed to give canned presentations a “wow” factor again?

    PowerPoints were great when they were a novelty. The wacky animation, the inane sounds. That was then. Now, PowerPoints are boring. I rarely use them unless asked. I much prefer talking to a small group and selectively using handouts. This helps create a two way dialogue and leads to better results.

  2. Peter McGarvey says:

    Promod, I totally agree that PowerPoints are boring. Of course, we are blaming the hammer for poor construction. The main problem with most presentations is poor planning and a total lack of audience involvement.

    I like your approach to presentations – small groups, two way dialogue and selective use of handouts. Any thoughts on eliminating handouts and just e mailing attendees a link to posted materials online?

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