Death by PowerPoint

It’s a slow death to be sure.  Similar to the classic “death of a thousand cuts”; only replace the tiny slashes of the razor with bullet points – fact after fact, benefit after benefit.

The listener’s mind disengages instantly, wandering off to their coming vacation, wondering what’s for dinner tonight or pondering when the Leafs might actually win the Stanley Cup.  Or perhaps deeper metaphysical inquiry into the composition of Dark Matter?

And it goes on…  Slide after slide, bullet point after excruciating bullet point, punctuated by the odd graphic or visual to break up the monotony.

Not guilty you might say!  But I hate to tell you, we are all guilty, like characters in an Agatha Christie mystery.

In the process we achieve the exact opposite of what we intended to do, engage the listener and win them over.

Normally, a death by PowerPoint starts innocuously enough, with an agenda highlighting the entire process, kind of like a torturer laying out his instruments so that the victim can see the method of his pain.

Normally the torture has mostly harmless names beside bullet points.  Words like “Our Process”, “Our Approach” and “Your Opportunities”.

Now stifle that yawn…

After careful review of thousands of corporate presentations (the guilt is widespread) the sad fact of life is that they are all the same.  Don’t believe this?  Take a bunch of presentation slides and toss them on the floor, stir them vigorously and then reassemble them.  Chances are they will make some kind of sense.

And that’s scary…

I know, I tried it for myself and then presented the results to a client who, thankfully, lapsed into a fugue state after several minutes and did not seem to notice.

So everybody is saying the same thing and making the same claims – we offer a solution, we are the industry leader, we are state of the art, and we will do your laundry and wash your windows…

It’s true that we offer great benefits and fantastic solutions.  So why the disconnect?  Or rather the failure to connect?

Most business presentations crowd out the human element.  You end up reciting facts and figures off a screen full of bullet points which have been laid out attractively in the proper corporate colours and meet graphic standards.  The presentation follows a perfect logic which progresses to a conclusion that is so logical that it is guaranteed to produce spectacular results.

Except it doesn’t…

The reason?

If life was Star Trek this kind of presentation would work very well on Mr. Spock.  However, most of us don’t have pointy ears and green blood.  Humans tend to respond on two levels, the intellectual and the emotional.

The mind might be engaged and the heart might be off somewhere by itself stalking deer (my sincere apologies to Carson McCullers).  Think of how your favourite television show might look if it followed the standard business presentation model.

The agenda would present the three act structure upfront – character development, conflict, drama and humour would all grow wings and fly out the window and the audience would quickly turn the channel to find something more fulfilling like “America’s Funniest Home Shop Accidents”.

In stark contrast, consider a drama where the action starts on a high stakes poker game.  The series hero, who is somewhat flawed, has a great hand and raises the stakes.  Everyone else folds except for the player directly across the table who meets the bet and raises it to $10,000, which the hero does not have.  His opponent offers to accept an IOU.  Of course the hero loses the hand and now owes this stranger, who is a shady character, $10,000 that he does not have.

The additional complication, the hero is a police detective, who tends to operate on the legal edges.

Roll opening credits…

We are now hooked and can’t wait for the opening credits and commercials to be over.

Will our hero get out of this without breaking the law or compromising his principles?

Now, imagine a presentation that hooked you in the same way.  How about an audience who can’t wait until you reveal your next point?

Then stay tuned for part two in which techniques will be revealed, a hero will rise and you will establish ultimate rapport with your audience.

One Response to “Death by PowerPoint”

  1. What a terrific post, Peter. You’ve got me hooked :)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.