Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ric Bretschneider

Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ric Bretschneider

Created: Thursday, August 5, 2021 posted by at 9:45 am

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Ric Bretschneider

Ric Bretschneider
Ric Bretschneider spent 17 years working on the Microsoft PowerPoint team, building features you both love and fear. Along with his passion for software design, he has spent many years teaching users’ good presentation practices and fighting “Death by PowerPoint” through hard and soft skill building. He created the Microsoft PowerPoint Team blog, writing more entries there than any other individual blogger, and still writes on the subject today. A featured speaker at every Presentation Summit, Ric notoriously and accidentally created its popular “Late Night Guru Session,” where patrons learn PowerPoint secrets and talk presenting into the wee hours of the night.

In this conversation, Ric talks about his participation at the upcoming Presentation Summit 2021, being held on location in Clearwater Beach, FL, and virtually this year from September 26 to 29, 2021. is the official media partner for the Presentation Summit.

Geetesh: Ric, you are probably the only speaker at the Presentation Summit who has all his sessions established as brands that are repeated each year. These three branded sessions are The Guru Session, PowerPoint Karaoke: No Joke, and Catching up with Pecha Kucha. How can audience members participate in these sessions, and is participation open to both in-person and virtual attendees?  And what will be audience takeaways from these sessions?

Ric: Hi Geetesh! Wow, you know I’d never thought of it that way. Each of these sessions started on its own, naturally from the things I do. The Guru Session started by accident when a group of friends at the Presentation Summit were coming back from dinner one night and didn’t want to stop talking about PowerPoint. We found an open room, a couple of bottles of wine, and sat up to early in the morning discussing PowerPoint secrets, funny stories from the development team, and such. The next day it was kind of legendary, with the people who had been there telling the others that they had “really missed something special.”

The next year I convinced Rick Altman to put it on the schedule, and we’ve been doing it ever since. It has turned into a combination group-therapy/tech-support drum circle of a thing. Rick named it the Guru Session kind of selling me as being the Guru. I’ve personally been switching that to the idea that “we’re all gurus at something” and trying to talk less and moderate more. But I always plan for a few surprises, like a virtual Nancy Duarte drop-in two years ago, and sometimes magic tricks, and rare PowerPoint team memorabilia giveaways. It’s never the same event twice.

Pecha Kucha and PowerPoint Karaoke (PK and PK!) are kind of a Ying and Yang to each other, and I was doing those events long before bringing them to Presentation Summit.  Pecha Kucha is a Japanese organization that manages events in cities around the world.  I founded the Silicon Valley (my hometown) branch back in 2007. People come to bars and event centers to watch these special presentations, kind of mini-TED talks, with subjects from all realms of experience. The glue there is the format. Presenters prepare a set of exactly 20 slides, and during the presentation slides advance automatically every 20 seconds.  So in six minutes and forty seconds, the presentation wraps up. I’ve hosted the Air B&B guys before they started their business, the future mayor of San Jose, an epileptic artist whose works are based on her own brain scans, a museum full of artists involved in cryptography… it gets crazy, but always interesting and never boring. For the Summit, I always pull from the attendees, give them a little training, and put on a show. We have a great time. Anyone who wants to give this a try at this year’s Summit should contact me now.

PowerPoint Karaoke is the Yang event. As controlled and planned as Pecha Kucha is, PowerPoint Karaoke is unplanned, chaotic, and a blast. Just like a regular Karaoke night, we get volunteers to step up and present a deck of slides they have never seen before. They are encouraged to spin crazy tales or explain otherwise unexpected connections between the slides. Where Pecha Kucha teaches refining your message and keeping your topic on track, PowerPoint Karaoke helps train how to handle the unexpected, deal with things you hadn’t planned on, and remain calm and keep the story moving forward. Both are essential skills for a presenter.

Geetesh: After a year, when the Summit was only virtual, the Summit is returning as a hybrid in-person and virtual event. How excited are you to be returning to normal, and how will you balance attention between your in-person and virtual attendees?

Ric: This is terrifying. I believe that good presentations are focused on the audience, and adjust for the method of delivery. Trying to simultaneously serve two audiences, one on a screen and one in the room endangers basic communication. The virtual audience is continually at a high risk of distraction, and paying attention to the virtual audience removes the presenter from the direct communication they have with the audience in the room. And because of the nature of virtual, there’s a time lag that can destroy your audience interaction. It taxes skills the presenter doesn’t necessarily regularly exercise. Frankly, this is an incredible distraction to the presenter as well – their time simply isn’t optimally focused on their message.

It takes many skilled people to support the presenter mitigate this damage. And it forces you to make some firm decisions about how you’re going to interact. For example, we simply won’t be doing a virtual audience for the Guru session. There’s a feel to that event that simply doesn’t lend itself to virtual. However, I’ve previously done successful virtual Pecha Kucha and PowerPoint Karaoke sessions, and I know what we need to do to make those work. We likely will use a different set of virtual software for both events that, while we lose a little control, will suffer much less lag than other sessions. And especially for PowerPoint Karaoke, we’ll suggest to the virtual audience that they unmute themselves. Yes, we’ve done that before and because of the usually humorous nature of that exercise, it just works. Rick has hired TLC Creative to help with managing all this, and I know and trust Troy Chollar to work with me to make all this work as best we can for both audiences.

So yeah, exciting, terrifying, and something we’ll all learn from.

What is the Presentation Summit?

Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ric Bretschneider

Presentation Summit 2021: Conversation with Ric Bretschneider

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. is the official media partner for the Presentation Summit.

Date: September 26 to 29, 2021

Location: Clearwater Beach, FL + Virtual Event

Register now!


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.

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