PPP#7 — Send me your presentation

Persistent Presentation Paradigm #7: “Send me your presentation.”

Presentation slides are over- and underrated at the same time. On one hand, people expect them to do wonders — we face these enthusiastic expectations in our work as presentation designers often enough. On the other hand, there seems to be no file type in the business world that is being treated with less care than PowerPoint files.

Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They’re emotional, and they won’t work without you there. If someone wants your slides to show “the boss,” tell them that the slides go if you go. — Seth Godin, Really Bad PowerPoint

Of course that applies to PowerPoint files in the first place. Slides should not even be printed out, it’s nothing but a waste of resources. The business world is haunted by a deep misunderstanding about what a presentation is. A presentation consists of a presenter, his topic, his aids (visual / acoustic / multimedia), and the audience. One component can not stand for the whole thing. Language lacks behind reality here.

Trying to see the presentation in a deck of slides alone would be like watching a theater piece by looking at a stage without actors. Granted, looking at a stage outfitted with props can put us in the adequate mood, as can slides. Slides are not supposed to be self-explanatory. We use them to reinforce our message, to provide an emotional backdrop, to have the desired impact on our listeners.

So, what can we do? First, we can call things by their proper names — “presentations” are events that involve people, visual aids created by a presentation software are called “slides”, a set of slides used for one presentation is called a “deck”, a “chart” is a particular type of visualization, as in “flow chart”. Second, we can stop swapping PowerPoint files as if they were baseball cards. Once we put the appropriate effort into making them proper visuals we won’t be so eager to give them away any more.

Paule Wendelberger