Brian Washburn is the co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning, a boutique instructional design firm whose vision is that every presentation can be engaging and lead to change. His goal in life is to rid the world of the scourge of poor learning experiences. In this interview, Brian discusses his book, PowerPoint: Your Co-Facilitator, published by ATD.
Geetesh: Tell us more about the idea behind your book, PowerPoint: Your Co-Facilitator. Is there a story behind this book?
Brian: I believe, based on my own experiences as well as those of countless colleagues, that society as a whole has allowed PowerPoint to take over – I mean completely dominate – the way presentations are done. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say “society as a whole” has allowed this because presentations are a part of everyday life – everywhere. In business meetings and conferences, sure. And also in schools, community meetings, government hearings… I sat through a 2-hour presentation last week for my son’s soccer team and the coaches used PowerPoint as the main communication tool throughout the meeting.
The fact is, if someone is asked to speak, they are cheating their audience if they allow PowerPoint to dominate. It can and should be used in a supporting role, but it should never be the main feature. That’s why I chose the title “PowerPoint: Your Co-Facilitator”. When used appropriately it can be a helpful presence by your side, but it’s not what the audience has come to see.
Geetesh: You take a very holistic view of PowerPoint. Also, your content comes across as a fine balance between the approach of PowerPoint critics, who compare PowerPoint with death, and those who think PowerPoint is the best thing after sliced bread. Can you tell us more about how readers will benefit from such an approach?
Brian: That’s a very interesting question, and honestly, I think PowerPoint can only be used effectively if people are able to strike that balance. After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve come to realize the PowerPoint itself isn’t inherently evil… the way it is (often) used, however, can be viewed as evil or sadistic. Nor is it the best thing since sliced bread, in fact, I will often design train the trainer sessions without using any PowerPoint slides simply to make the point that you can have an effective training program without using a single slide.
There are so many things you can do with PowerPoint, and for some reason, people don’t think to use them. You can embed real-time audience polling. You can use animations and triggers to reveal information dynamically or even create classroom games. You can use a PowerPoint slide to show activity instructions so that you don’t need to keep repeating your instructions to your audience. This last point is important and I want to emphasize it again. Activities! PowerPoint can help keep people on task during activities. Which assumes that you’re actually designing active ways for your audience to experience your content.
I think the biggest problem comes when people have to deliver a presentation and they immediately open up PowerPoint and start writing all of their key points on slides. This is the definition of death by PowerPoint. A better way to design a presentation is to think about how the audience will best absorb your content and jot down your notes in Word or on a blank piece of paper. Then ask yourself: ok, now that I know what and how I want to present, how can PowerPoint help the audience have a better learning experience?
Throwing words and content at your audience with text-laden slides is not only a poor learning experience, there isn’t an iota of evidence that says this is effective for learning.
Changing the way people use PowerPoint can change your impact on your audience, which in turn can inspire your audience to do amazing things, maybe even change the world.