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PowerPoint and Philosophy: Conversation with Tom Bunzel

Monday, June 25, 2012
posted by Geetesh on 9:30 AM IST





Tom BunzelTom Bunzel specializes in knowing what other presenters need and how to make technology work. He has appeared on Tech TV's Call for Help as "Professor PowerPoint", and is a featured speaker at industry events each year. Tom is also a "technology coach" and does presentation and video consulting in southern California. Tom's new eBook, Presence of Mind: Journey to a New Operating System is now available online. You can also visit his site, The Presentation Professor and his BunzBlog blog.

In this conversation, Tom discusses how you should create a new presentation from scratch, and also his new book.

Geetesh: How do you approach creating a new presentation? Can you share some thoughts?

Tom: Sure. I think the best way to approach a presentation is like I imagine writing a mystery novel would be—from the ending first. In a mystery you devise a plot with a powerful ending that amazes the reader; in a presentation you figure out what the final outcome will be: for sales a call to action; for training, the ability to manage a task; for an inspirational talk, a deep message of change.

When you know the ending you can begin to strategize how to get there. You want to reach different kinds of audiences—rational thinkers may respond to facts while many people believe that they’re rational but they may respond to emotions like fear (not my favorite) or adventure and opportunity to thrive, or to overcome an obstacle.

So then you want to build your story toward your inevitable conclusion using the various building blocks you've got—and then you would inventory your creative media assets in this regard—including text (strong simple statements), pictures (metaphors and allegories), video (supporting narrative) and perhaps even music (emotional tone).

Finally you would want your presentation to be in a context—as part of a larger matrix of communication—in today's environment. In my book Tools of Engagement: Presenting and Training in a World of Social Media, I maintain that presentations today must be conversations, because today's audiences expect context. They want access to the presenter before and after an event, in terms of researching their qualifications and also getting to know them personally. That’s why so many of today's presentations are part of an overall social strategy that include programs like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn online, along with webinars and blogs, all around the staple of a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation. A presentation used to be a single event and a broadcast by someone in authority on a podium or with a projector; now if it's not part of a larger conversation it is often ignored amid the immense amount of compelling information out there.

Geetesh: You often mention TED Talks – can you share a few of your favorites, and what you liked best about them?

Tom: My life actually changed in 2007 when I viewed a video by geneticist Juan Enriquez on TED.com in which he describes how altering the genome results in a different species, and how an "apple is an application; when the sun hits it the program executes, and the apple falls from the tree."

At the time I was thinking of writing a science fiction story in which a computer program was discovered in the brain which made people realize that we were the product of a higher intelligence—that we didn’t need to search of "intelligent life" in the universe—it was inside of us.

Well, Enriquez's video made me realize this wasn't science fiction—it's the truth. With DNA, we now know that the instructions that control our breathing, digestion, circulation, and all life are essentially organic programs (genetics and epigenetics) that operate literally as computer programs (not merely functions that are allegorically similar or work analogously to computer programs). All of life is processing information every microsecond.

What does this suggest? Well for one thing, we can literally "cut and paste" Life – it's been done as we move the code from one organism to another and change its "properties" and "methods" – terms that computer programmers will understand.

But we must also deeply consider the obvious fact that computer programs (like Word and PowerPoint) did not "evolve" – they were designed by teams of programmers with conscious and intelligent intention to perform tasks and serve a purpose.

Of course in our modern world this brings up the issue of fundamentalism and Intelligent Design; but I think that is a false dichotomy—the conflict with modern science.

Modern science is coming up against the reality of consciousness and the intelligence of nature all the time—in quantum mechanics and also in astrophysics and mathematics. (Our supercomputers which sequenced the genome have "found" (calculated) the largest prime number—but obviously in nature there “is” a larger number beyond that)….

I believe that computer programs are pointing all of us to a higher truth—that the universe we inhabit is much greater in scale than what we currently understand, and even science (if we don't blow ourselves up) is on the verge of discovering a higher level of intelligence in nature.

"God" is just a word or placeholder—I think of it as the ultimate variable in computer programming. But we are on the verge of either transcending our current view of our own nature (and the universe), or going extinct as a species.

Sorry to go on the soapbox. But we act like we completely understand and control nature, and if you look around, you can see the results.

A more recent video on TED was a talk about How algorithms shape the world, by Ken Slavin, who describes how computers operating at speeds unfathomable to humans are manipulating our economic system in ways we don't even comprehend. Well, again, algorithms are apparent in nature – the Fibonacci sequence (or Golden Mean) for example is mathematical perfection manifest almost everywhere you look. It's hard to recognize this, and not realize with a certain reverence that much greater intelligence has been present much longer than we have—we've had the personal computer for almost 50 years; DNA has been running for billions of years.

These are some of the questions I am currently dealing with, and they're not always comfortable, but I think we delude ourselves if we avoid confronting them. So at the moment I am trying to cross the barriers between computer technology, psychology and religion.

See Also: Tools of Engagement: Conversation with Tom Bunzel

Categories: books, interviews, opinion, powerpoint

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