Monday, March 10, 2014

'Life by Powerpoint'

Life by PowerPoint

How often do we all hear the same phrase 'Death by PowerPoint?'
The thought brings a yawn to most of us. We have all had to bear this  problem from certain speakers at conferences, seminars and workshops, or, of course, meeting presentations.

Well, today, I wish to turn that thinking upside down, and describe to you how, actually, I have been enlightened into the new 'Life by PowerPoint'

It started just over a year ago, when I changed computers from an MSDOS laptop to a MacBook Pro. Actually, the new computer has nothing to do with my enlightenment in the use of PowerPoint, although I think that the change of computers did trigger new and better work habits, as I started to understand PowerPoint in a completely new way.

For me, PowerPoint is now a fantastic knowledge tool. Let me tell you why.

As a management consultant, working with large international clients, I have to make many presentations in workshops etc. I am also a conference speaker. So preparing conference speeches and preparing seminars, workshops and master classes, is a key part of my work.

Typically, the requests can be last minute. And normally they are! Just last week, I was on a plane to Istanbul with just a few hours on the flight to prepare a client workshop for the next day. The workshop had a group of about 20 people who wanted to learn some new methods to embed effective knowledge management methods, tools and techniques into their daily work. Their culture, situation, and work challenges were quite unique. And, therefore, I wanted to develop a unique presentation.

So, on the flight, I started to formulate my thoughts and ideas into a few slides, which, at that stage, were simple bullet points. In other words, I started to put some 'order and structure' to my thoughts. 
I was then also able to better plan the workshop.

Of course, as a presenter and teacher, I do know, very well indeed, the power of visualising and presenting new concepts, ideas and work plans etc in frameworks, diagrams, pictures, metaphor, video, humour etc as a far richer and more easily digestible ways to transfer new learning's and ideas. But, on this occasion, I simply did not have the time at all to develop this. I had three hours on the flight only.

Actually, for this client,  I arrived at my destination airport very early last Saturday, at 1am, and checked in to my hotel and bed by 3am. I was up again, continuing the preparation of my workshop, at 7am for a further hour before breakfast. I was then at the clients office early on Saturday morning to start work (Saturday is a work day in the Middle East). 

My first key point is this. I simply did not have the time that would be needed to develop a series of bullet pointed slides in to richer and far more acceptable presentations.

But, during a hasty breakfast, I was able to look at these bulleted slides and, from the order and structure, I added to the 'Notes' section for the speaker (at the bottom of the screen) in bold capital letters, the 'key messages' that I wanted to convey through delivering these points, and, furthermore, the 'transitions' that I wanted to make, to take me smoothly and more eloquently into the next slide. So the presentation slides became much more of a natural flow. 

I then ran the workshop successfully, and the participants received copies of these slides. They were then able, also, to make their own notes and comments themselves, to expand the richness of the slides in their own unique way, and in deeper context.

This raises my second point. Some speakers think that they are better than those who use slides if they can 'perform' without slides. For a keynote speech of up to an hour maximum, I can certainly accept this more readily. But for a teaching session of several hours, I think it's arrogance and probably speaker ego to care more about your performance on stage without powerpoint, verses the value and need to give your students something they can use to remember and document the session with their notes added. (However, I do, to a degree, accept speakers who will offer audio and video copies of their session instead of slides, but this still does not allow the participant to embed their own notes to develop a richer context for them)

After the workshop, on Saturday, the client requested that I start to put this new knowledge, presented at the workshop, into practice in their KM pilot teams on Sunday morning. So, on Saturday evening I was able to develop a few of these bullet point slides in to even more meaningful diagrams and more forceful key messages. On Sunday morning, whilst travelling by car to the KM pilot groups, I was also able to improve the slides further, by incorporating the feedback gained from the participants on Saturday. 

I think you can now guess were I am going with this? By Wednesday, I had introduced meaningful pictures in to the presentation, to add the power of metaphor, for future training sessions. 

Throughout, I took HD video, with a simple camera on a tripod, (all I had to do is press the on/off button), and, when time permits, I will edit the video as a record of the event. The client was simply delighted to know that they will receive a video copy for their workshop participants to refer to, even if it is pretty basic editing.

Time permitting, I will take a few snippets of that video that especially recorded the atmosphere of the day, and some key messages, and embed them in to the same power point slides, for possible future workshops.

So my key point to you, in this blogpost, is that PowerPoint can be an incredibly powerful knowledge tool, that enables and assists the knowledge worker/consultant to develop his/her thoughts, ideas and insights in to richer knowledge flows, for more effective knowledge transfer, in a natural way, and in a way that is similar to the way the brain organises and develops thoughts and interconnected thoughts (through transitions and linkages) into richer patterns with more complexity.

So, next time you experience a teacher using bulleted power points, don't immediately make the 'death by PowerPoint' assumption, but keep an open mind to what follows, and how it follows.

If the presenter is good, you will know soon enough, and probably better realise that these thoughts are being still being developed, and powerpoint is being used as a new knowledge development tool. 

If the presenter is bad, or if the presenter is using the same bulleted points again and again, especially at conferences, yawn!

So I intend to use PowerPoint as a knowledge development tool, through the phases of: 
  • thought structuring and ordering 
  • adding more focus and flow 
  • developing richness, through visual means, and metaphor. 

For me, I support 'Life by PowerPoint'. Do you have similar experiences?

Ron Young

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