When I stared in the marketing and design business, over 17 years ago, I was gunning to re-design identities, create large trade show displays, plan multi-facited brochures that would help companies sell, sell, sell. (Websites really weren’t a “thing” yet). So you can imagine how confused I was when an internal marketing company hired me to build PowerPoint presentations. I knew I could do it, and it would exceed their expectations when I was done, but really?… A PowerPoint? Blah! What rigid and old technology?!
Looking back now, I chalk it up to being young and naïve. The clunky presentation software, that I pushed to its limits, was being used by the internal marketing company to promote their services and explain complex ideas to executives of large casino groups, Fortune 500 companies, and other companies that needed internal marketing assistance. The PowerPoints I created went hand-in-hand with the intangible internal marketing ideas being explained, and the planning of complex internal communication systems and promotions their client companies would carry out all year long. The presentations I spent hours imagining, cultivating, designing, timing, and testing on others for response, would “set the stage” for everything that came after. At the time, I didn’t realize how powerful and engaging these presentations were when coupled with professional presenters who used them to immerse their audiences in the vision of what their companies would become.
This past experience of years ago was recently brought back to mind when we were contacted by a Fortune 500 company who asked us to build an amazing PowerPoint for an important presentation they were giving to their executives in Asia.
While we worked on this strategically important PPT for our client, I was struck by the thought of how many PowerPoints and presentations are designed and delivered without much creative thought. I considered all the presenters around the world who are getting up in front of their audience of 30 or 3,000 people, only having given marginal consideration to what is “backing them up” as they deliver company/paradigm-altering information. Is it possible that some presenters should be bared from presenting unless they have an engaging PowerPoint or Prezi to accompany their talk. If you don’t have the skills to design a worthwhile presentation, then maybe it’s best to just leave it at the office and present without.
Many presenters call their slides their “deck”. So we always talk about “having the deck being stacked in our favor”… Or the presenters favor.
The ART of the presentation isn’t in the fanciest of graphics or slides loaded with so much content that even the best speaker would do better just to hand out copies of their deck and leave the reading to the audience. The presentation that works best is one that plays to the speakers strengths, that sets the tone, puts the audience into the right mindset, and keeps people engaged in what’s being said (especially when the topic gets a little dry). The art of the presentation can be over-the-top-wow or subtle and simple. PowerPoints and Prezi are considered art when employed to accentuate the points the speaker is making, or simplify or visually explain complex concepts. Oh… and the speaker must NEVER read from the prezi – it is merely part of the show not a speakers’ guide.
We often build presentations, PowerPoint or Prezi or other, just like we are working on a stage production (with a bit of a marketing focus). We consider the audience: how many people will be there? What are the demographics? How will they be situated in the room? Will they be “fresh” or “tired”? At what level do we need to connect to them? Etc. Next, we get a feel for the presenter’s preferences, and their goals for the presentation: What do we want the presentation to accomplish? How long do we really have to engage the audience? Is the presentation part of a larger promotion, or is it a “one-time-winner-take-all” kind of thing?
With all of this information we are now ready to work with the presenter to build an effective PowerPoint – a stage performance that will WOW the audience, or sell your next widget or help change the paradigm of your internal team. What is the Art of the Presentation? It’s the show that takes place around the presenter even if no one is listening to them. Better make it a good one!