Joby Blume is Managing Consultant at BrightCarbon, a presentation agency operating from the UK and Singapore. Joby has been writing sales presentations for the last seven years, during which time he has helped clients to win billions of dollars of new business.
BrightCarbon specializes in creating compelling and persuasive sales presentations and Visual Conversations®, training sales people to present effectively, and supporting clients with large pitches. BrightCarbon also delivers paid-for and free advanced PowerPoint training.
In this interview, Joby discusses the need for PowerPoint training.
Geetesh: Most PowerPoint users are self-taught, and their justification is that PowerPoint is a very easy program to use – do you agree with them? Please share your thoughts.
Joby: Sure, PowerPoint is easy to use without training — but people just use it in the worst ways imaginable. If all you want to do is use PowerPoint as a word processor, then it’s straightforward to open it up and start typing — just don’t ever use your slides for a presentation. There’s no point reading slides aloud to an audience — if they can read your message, they don’t need to listen too.
A lot of people have realized that really crowded, text-heavy slides don’t work that well, and are thinking more in terms of a Presentation Zen approach instead. Which makes perfect sense if you are designing slides for use on a huge stage, almost as a backdrop to a speech. Find a great photograph, insert it, and type a line of text over the top. But most presentations aren’t like that. We look at Steve Jobs and think that we want to deliver presentations the same way he used to, but conveniently ignore the fact that most of our presentations are in a small meeting room to six other people, or a sales presentation to a skeptical audience. And we’re not launching a mobile phone to a room full of fans, we’re trying to explain business strategy, or medical diagnostics, or data, or something like that. So, even those people who try to do something better than typing six bullet points onto a slide are modeling the wrong behavior –- because they aren’t giving a speech with a pretty backdrop to a friendly audience.
One of the things that’s great about PowerPoint is that it can help presenters to explain complex ideas clearly. But to do that successfully, slides shouldn’t make sense on their own –- they should support a presenter. All those beautiful decks on SlideShare look fantastic, but they aren’t a presentation –- they are slides that make perfect sense without a presenter. So when a presenter comes to use them, what does the audience do? They just read the slides, and because they think that the most important information goes onto the slides, they feel that they can ignore the presenter. It doesn’t matter how beautiful slides are if they aren’t effective when used in a presentation.
A lot of people think they can use PowerPoint, but they never even thought about what makes an effective slide. PowerPoint might be easy to pick up and use, but it’s actually pretty hard to use well -– and it does tempt people to use it badly, with things like “Insert Text Here” encouraging the use of bullet points.
So, we think that PowerPoint should be used to show things that help to support what a presenter says, with images, graphs, diagrams -– all that sort of stuff -– but not to replace a presenter. To make slides that are highly visual, most people need a bit of help. Partly in visualization -– actually working out how to show their ideas, and then also in PowerPoint doing things like working with images, animation, graphs, groups, manipulating video, and so on. Most people don’t know how to do those things, and need training.
Geetesh: You do training sessions on PowerPoint for free – why do you do these sessions, and what have your training experiences been like?
Joby: There are sort of two answers to this. The official one is that we’re on a mission to save the world from awful presentations, one master class at a time. By which I mean that we all actually care about helping people to deliver better presentations. So we run advanced PowerPoint training sessions online, but also presentation skills sessions, and even sessions for those writing presentations. Some of our team have been creating visual PowerPoint slides professionally for almost ten years –- so it’s quite easy for us to create training presentations, and to show people how we do things. We want to help, and so we organise the sessions.
We run two master classes each week, most weeks of the year. And as you say, the sessions are free, and we’re getting really good feedback. The classes are based on our advanced PowerPoint training and presentation skills training – which we deliver to companies in-house on a paid-for basis. But this way we can reach more people, and help save the world from awful presentations. All the thanks we receive makes us feel warm and fuzzy, and it works as great motivation.
The unofficial but honest answer is that we’re also trying to get noticed. We’ve all been working on presentations for a long time, but BrightCarbon is a relatively new company. So we want to start conversations with people, and the best way to do that is to openly share things that people find useful. So we share our knowledge via our master class events online.
The sessions are actually pretty good. It’s quite fast-paced, and of course we don’t get time to answer every question we get asked, or give personal support in the way we would for face-to-face training. We get a lot of people though, and the sessions are growing through word-of-mouth, so we must be doing something right. The sessions are aimed at people who already use PowerPoint, but who want to see what more is possible, and so far it seems like we’re pitching it right.
We use Brainshark to send out summaries to the people who miss the session, but the full content is only available to those who turn up. The numbers attending have been growing exponentially -– soon we’ll need to increase our capacity with our webinar provider – but we’re delighted people are finding the sessions useful.