Olivia Mitchell has been a Toastmaster, a management development trainer for a major bank, and a political candidate. Now she teaches others how to become more confident and effective presenters – through face-to-face training courses in New Zealand (Effective Speaking) and her blog Speaking about Presenting.
Geetesh: Can you tell more about what got you interested in design changes for PowerPoint slides? And how did the idea of a group blog come about?
Olivia: Most of my course participants, and visitors to my blog, already know that bullet-points are awful but they don’t know what to do about it. I want to make it easy for people to transition from bullet-point slides to visual slides.
Many presentation design bloggers have a particular design style and that comes through on their blogs. So I see my role as digesting all the great design and styles that are out there and showing people how they can adopt those styles. For an example see my post The Top 7 PowerPoint slide designs.
The group blog came about because of post by Laura Bergells from the Maniactive blog. Laura argued that in some cases we need a return to more detailed slides. I started composing a blog post to respond to what Laura had written but realized that initiating a wide-ranging debate would be more interesting. I broadened the debate by suggesting that the theme of their posts should be “What you’d like to see in PowerPoint slide design in 2009.”
I invited presentation bloggers and selected experts to contribute. There’s now a total of 40 contributions. It seems to be an issue that people wanted to write about.
Geetesh: What’s your opinion about changes in design?
Olivia:I totally support the move away from bullet-point slides.
But I think there is an issue with integrating new design approaches into everyday business culture. It’s all very well to say that businesses should put as many resources into their PowerPoint slides as their brochures or annual reports, but that’s not going to happen. The reality is that everyday business people will continue to put together the majority of PowerPoint slideshows. They are not going to read design books or read the archives of Presentation Zen. They need quick and simple ways of putting together slides that don’t suck.
Geetesh: Can you quote some opinions from the numerous blog posts that have been put up as part of this group blog initiative.
Olivia:Here are some of the themes that have come through.
First, from the presentation bloggers who are in the trenches working with business people, there comes the theme that most presentations still suck. Here’s Bert Decker:
I would estimate 90% of all types of presentations are created by people who go to their computers and start the process by using the PP outliner or going right to writing text and bullets on the slides themselves. So the end result is totally PP driven, and we have information without influence and data without emotion.
Many other bloggers echoed this.
There are two main controversies that came through. The first one is “Does Design Matter?”. On the one hand you have Joey Asher saying:
But ultimately my position on PowerPoint is this: it’s largely irrelevant to whether you accomplish your goals. That’s because PowerPoint and other visuals, now matter how graphically pleasing, don’t inspire audiences, sell ideas, or win business.
and on the other, Ellen Finkelstein:
I’d like presenters in 2009 to know that design is important. Good design provides a professional, custom look that says that the presenter cared enough about the audience to do more than slap on a default background. Companies hire professionals to design their web sites and printed brochures; why not their presentations, which are just as important?
The second controversy is “Simplicity versus Detail”. This is the issue that Laura Bergells discussed in the post that sparked the project. The majority suggested that there should be one idea per slide and that should be supported by a visual.
But there was also a significant minority who suggested that it should depend – this from Brent Dykes:
I am concerned that rather than adding the simple, visual approach to presenters’ “toolboxes”, presenters will use it as a hammer for all presentation situations. .. Just because bullet points may be perceived as the duct tape of PowerPoint design (inelegant and ugly), it doesn’t mean bullet points aren’t effective in certain situations.
Many bloggers used this opportunity to reiterate key design principles – there’s a lot of unanimity around these — which will provide clear guidance to presenters. For example:
- Remove extraneous detail from your slides
- One idea per slide
- Put details in the handout.
Finally, many bloggers also looked at what might be ahead. The most interesting theme here was the influence of social media techniques on PowerPoint and presenting. Laura Bergells suggested that:
The brevity of Twitter can make you a better designer. A better headline writer. A better presenter. Using and studying Twitter can be a powerful exercise in how to get your point across swiftly and succinctly.
I’ll be publishing four round-up posts to highlight these themes. The first one is already published: PowerPoint Slide Design in 2009: Does Design Matter?