By: Laurie Thompson
“And tonight we’ll be giving a PowerPoint presentation,” the host says with glee as you try to stifle a cringe (and then pull out your Blackberry to use the time wisely).
This night, you are reminded again that not all professions are equally enamoured with PowerPoint. Is this a function of quantity or quality: could it be that other professions are using it better or at least, using it less often?
There have long been grumblings about PowerPoint as a way to effectively present information and ideas. Professors like Edward Tufte at Yale University, have made a career of helping people better imagine how to present quantitative information.
And in recent years, even David Byrne, has joined the PowerPoint debate, and as a player not a spectator. Yes, David Byrne, the co-founder and avant-garde lead singer of the ’80s band Talking Heads, is making PowerPoint presentations and get this, they are entitled “I (heart) PowerPoint. But don’t expect to see the standard PowerPoint fare. He’s using it in unconventional, David Byrne type ways that scarcely resemble any of the thousands I’ve seen during my PowerPoint lifetime.
Now, I’m about as likely to use PowerPoint like David does as I am to be the lead singer of an ultra cool, New York band. Even so, David Byrne’s dabbling with PowerPoint is a fierce reminder of a couple of things: one, most of us do use it very, very badly. Our visuals lack imagination. Most of us work within the confines of PowerPoint templates, presenting too much information in hard to digest ways. The story just is not there; two, the blame doesn’t lie squarely on PowerPoint. It can be used to creatively & effectively communicate ideas and information.
Over the past few years, we’ve been challenging ourselves at SW+A to up our game in terms of effective communication through Powerpoint. Recently, we tabled a new approach to creating “the story”: rather than rushing to share the information, we chew on the data for a while and then imagine how that story can best be told. We work to “look and see” the information and then imagine the best way to share the learning with others. This approach to presenting ideas comes from a book called “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam. It’s worth a read.
Oh, and if you are looking to see what David Bryne is up to these days, here’s a link to his site with reviews of his new book “Bicycle Diaries.”