Lost in slideumentation

Where I work, we call them ‘decks’. PowerPoint presentations filled with facts and bullet points, designed to persuade our audience on a point of view. I’ve also heard them called ‘slide decks’, ‘PowerPoint decks’, or the term I like from my recent reading ‘slideuments’.  The irony in calling these presentations ‘decks’ is that a deck is usually associated with an outdoor wooden building surrounding, sometimes referred to as a patio or a pergola. They’re functional, but typically not inspiring. So maybe ‘deck’ is an apt description after all. So what is it about a slideument that is so unappealing or boring?  Why is the phrase ‘death by PowerPoint’ an accepted part of our vernacular? Why is it that we continually fail to connect through this ‘presentation’ medium?

I found inspiration in this book review list of 2010, to pick up a few as a part of my development plan, which I decided one area would be to focus on how I construct PowerPoint presentations.  When I told colleagues about my ambitions, they said, ‘why, you’re good at PowerPoint presentations…’, which I thought was true to a degree, but I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the limitations being placed on documents that were to be reviewed by the senior executive leadership group.  ‘No more than 10 slides..’  ‘Must be submitted X day’s prior to the leadership team meeting..’   I was somewhat disheartened by these rules and wanted to know why they were placing limits on how we connected with them as a leadership group.

Then it dawned on me, after several conversations and a look at some of the content that were being shipped their way.  Our most senior leaders were being subjected to ‘death by slideuments’.  PowerPoint decks filled with bullet points, stats, graphs and action plans.  Decks that are often very hard to read without a narrative from the author.  But with the increasing amount of decisions, information and presentations being thrust upon the senior leadership team, clearly they were trying to gain some efficiencies through pre-reading packs and focussing meeting time on discussion and decision making.  Which in effect was leaving less or even no time for a presentation from the people trying to pitch the ideas.

I’m currently reading Resonate, which reinforces some concepts I was very familiar with and provides a good framework I plan to utilise to build an experience based workshop for my colleagues to help them in their endeavours to influence senior leaders.  Key takeouts to date, after being about half way through the book (and having skimmed the preceding book slide:ology and another book on the topic Presentation Zen Design)  include, the need for presentations to contain a good story line, with big ideas, that are supported by showing what we are moving from and where we need to move to – then finishing by painting a picture of what life will look like in the future.  And coming to grips with the audience is your hero and you’re their mentor – your job is to make them buy into your cause, not convince them how wonderful you are.  (There’s a good video summary of the books key theme here.)

I’m excited about being able to take my presentation art to the next level and strive to make deeper emotional connections with my audience, but at the same time concerned about the fact that getting face time to tell and reveal stories in a compelling presentation, are becoming more limited, due to the past failures of connection that have become so common. A key part of being able to present is to be able to reveal and inject the emotion required to obtain the emotional buy-in of the target audience. Yet in the world of  ‘convince me with the facts before we even discuss the concept‘ and ‘we don’t have time to listen to your story‘*, it becomes increasingly difficult to wrest the attention required, to fully leverage some of the less commonly used art forms of positive visually enhanced presentation.

I still highly recommend a look at the video link here and even better read Resonate.  I’m confident that regardless of the battles for gaining face time, the structure and tips contained within the book can be applied to all manner of written presentations – even slideuments – to help provide a better and more compelling case for change.  I will keep you posted on how I go. You never know, if the author Nancy Durate is right about her four predictions for presentations in 2011, we may all soon become ‘naked presenters’ and not need the slide deck at all!

I’m keen to hear your comments and thoughts about your successes and failures in convincing audiences with compelling presentations.

  • How have you overcome limitations on being able to connect and convince key stakeholders with compelling presentations?
  • Are slideuments a way of doing business for your company?
  • Do you recommend any other good resources on preparing slide presentations?

by Geoff Rose – January 13, 2010

Some great examples of good presentations here: Lessons from the 2010 SlideShare presentation competiton

* – not actual quotes.

Image:  Salvatore Vuono /