Ric Bretschneider is a technologist, troublemaker, and problem solver. Professionally, he helps people raise the quality of their business communications, mainly presenting. At Microsoft, Ric spent 17 years working on PowerPoint, designing and molding the program that became a juggernaut in business communication.
Shortly after leaving Microsoft, Ric was awarded PowerPoint MVP status, a recognition held by only a dozen or so people in the US. In his spare time, Ric runs the San Jose California branch of the Pecha Kucha presentation event, writes, blogs and podcasts. He’s also a huge geek; his obsessions are hidden away on his site.
In this conversation, Ric talks about his sessions at the upcoming Presentation Summit 2020, being held virtually this year from August 10 to 13, 2020.
Indezine.com is the official media partner for the Presentation Summit.
Geetesh: Ric, you are doing two sessions at this year’s Presentation Summit: The Guru Session and PowerPoint Karaoke: No Joke. What expectations should audiences have from these sessions, and what takeaways will they carry back?
Ric: First, thanks for taking on all these interviews Geetesh! It’s amazing you can find the time for them, and I’m sure the patrons find it helpful in navigating the conference and deciding what to focus on while they’re attending.
PowerPoint Karaoke is something I’d heard about decades ago. When I started my local Silicon Valley branch of Pecha Kucha Nights, I was looking for an audience participation warmup exercise to use before the regular presenters started. I decided to try PPT Karaoke, the audience and presenters loved it, and it’s been a regular fixture at the events ever since. We have some folks who come specifically to watch and take part in the Karaoke!
So what is PowerPoint Karaoke? It’s an improvisational exercise where people present a deck of slides they’ve never seen before. Most folks string the visuals along to tell a fairly wild and often hilarious story. I find it to be one of the more entertaining things you can have people do on stage with no prep and a willing audience. It also provides a valuable improv exercise, keeping the minds and storytelling abilities of presenters flexible and adaptive. It really is all about expecting the unexpected, and the ability to do that is useful any time you’re live in front of an audience.
After years of trying to convince Rick Altman to let me do a session of PowerPoint Karaoke for Summit, we’re now the third year in of being part of the conference schedule! I get so much positive feedback from attendees and participants, they come away with something they can do equally well to entertain friends at a party, or as a team exercise during a company meeting. It’s really flexible.
I was concerned about bringing it to a virtual audience though, worried that the presenters wouldn’t get the same audience feedback and be able to draw the right energy from the crowd. But recently we did two days of PowerPoint Karaoke sessions for the Presentation Guild, just a small benefit for our members, something fun. And it went over great, and I’m really excited about doing it again this year with a virtual crowd.
The “Late Night” Guru Session is something unique to the Presentation Summit. We break most of the stodgy rules of convention panels and sessions. That started from the first time we did it. It was the second year of the conference, the late-night get together was a spontaneous thing – nothing planned about it at all. I was still working for Microsoft, attending the convention as an official representative of the PowerPoint team. About a dozen of us were walking back from a late dinner and looking for a place to hang out. We found a conference room that was open, with a projector, and luckily one of us was dragging around a laptop. So we spent the rest of the evening and into the morning just hanging out and talking about the weird and wonderful things we could do with PowerPoint. I told stories about the early days of PowerPoint development, things like how PowerPoint got its name, stuff like that. It was a part tutorial, part love fest, and no small part group therapy session.
The next morning it was kind of legendary. Everyone who was there was telling those who missed it how much they’d missed! Word got around and there was this impression that “that Microsoft guy has spilled a bunch of secrets” but that wasn’t really the case. The next year I told Rick Altman we should make it official, he agreed, and we’ve done it every year since.
Rick has always advertised it as “The Guru Session” first attaching that label to me. It stuck, but I try to make everyone understand that we’re all the gurus, everyone has something to share, and that you can’t predict where the next revelation will come from. The strength of the Guru session comes from everyone who comes to the party, everyone with a problem, a solution, or just something that makes us all laugh and become a stronger community.
Of course, I have some fun surprises in store for our Virtual audience. This year more than in others, you may have been to a Guru Session before but you haven’t been to this Guru Session.
Geetesh: Both your sessions have been an integral part of several seasons of the Presentation Summit. But, you’ll do them virtually this year. What’s different and what’s the same as you move to the virtual format?
Ric: As I mentioned, you cannot underestimate the amount of energy a good presenter will draw from the audience. Whether it’s about pacing, depth of the content, or just making sure they’re not falling asleep, the presenter gains guidance and reenforcement from the way an audience is presenting itself; the posture, the eye contact, the laughter, and even in silent times, the breathing. I’m not making this up, an audience’s physicality will tell you more than they ever will when you ask “any questions?”
And that’s something you have to work hard to build during a virtual conference. I anticipate trying to open up the audience’s mics as much as possible, and getting their faces on screen as well. We’ll be monitoring chat (not in a Big Brother kind of way) to see where we need to go, what we need to do. This environment is still very new to presenters and audiences alike, certainly not as a method of doing presentations, but given the ubiquity of it, the way it’s replacing the face-to-face, the same-place aspect of presenting. Because of that, making it work is and should be the current focus of presenters and technologists alike. I learn something each time I sit down in front of a camera these days. Hopefully, our audience does as well.
What is the Presentation Summit?
For nearly two decades, Rick Altman has been hosting the Presentation Summit, a highly popular event that is geared towards users of PowerPoint and other presentation platforms.
Indezine.com is the official media partner for the Presentation Summit.
Date: August 10 to 13, 2020
Location: Virtual Event
The views and opinions expressed in this blog post or content are those of the authors or the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company.