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 2022, being held on location in San Diego, CA, and virtually this year from October 9 to 12, 2022.
Indezine.com is the official media partner for the Presentation Summit.
Geetesh: Ric, tell us about your three signature sessions, The Guru Session, PowerPoint Karaoke, and The Wonders of Pecha Kucha. How many years have you been doing these sessions at the Presentation Summit, and how do you manage to keep their content fresh and inspiring?
Ric: Hi Geetesh! Yeah, although I’ve been to every single Presentation Summit, I was originally there as a Microsoft representative of the PowerPoint team. As such, I just had fun listening to customers, answering their questions, letting them buy me drinks, and taking all that back to the team in California. I did do a keynote talk at the first one, but the less said about that the better. The only scheduled event I did during that time was created by happy accident.
The Guru Session started 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.
After I left Microsoft, I was trying to figure out how I could stay active with the Presentation Summit. I had founded the San Jose California Pecha Kucha branch, had been running shows for a few years, and thought I could bring them to the summit schedule.
Pecha Kucha and PowerPoint Karaoke (PK and PK!) are by their nature a new show every time! They’re kind of a Ying and Yang to each other, and I was doing those events long before bringing them to Presentation Summit. Believe it or not, it wasn’t easy to talk Rick Altman into doing these the first time, so the fact that 2nd to the Guru Session, they’ve been repeated more often than any other session (unless you count the trivia contest) kind of blows me away.
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.
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.
So, you can see, keeping my events fresh is really not difficult at all!
Geetesh: This year also marks 20 years of the Presentation Summit. How has the event evolved over the last two decades, and what is your message to new attendees?
Ric: The Summit, like its attendees, is both a bunch of familiar aspects and some things brand new. Rick Altman typically reports that about 60% of attendees are new, which leaves 40% as returnees or never-lefters. There’s a constant influx of new people who are actively looking to up their presentation game, whether that’s in composition, technology, or the soft skills side. Because you have that keen interest, it’s typically 100% a great crowd. So, you never know how people will affect or be affected by participating.
I’ll give you a very concrete example. Last year a guy named Glenn attended the Summit for the first time. Now, most of the first-timers fit right in and have a great time, But this guy was exceptional. He seemed to be everywhere, asking good questions, volunteering for interactive sessions… he was even part of my PowerPoint Karaoke session!
Now I’m on the board of directors of the Presentation Guild, which is typically represented strongly at the Summit. We were all “this guy needs to be a Guild member!” (Frankly, everyone should be a member because it’s a great organization for anyone doing professional presentations or presentation creation.) Well, a long story short, he joined the Guild, was voted to the board of directors, and is currently one of the leaders of our MarCom group.
And that’s the kind of people you meet at the Presentation Summit. Creative, inquisitive, sharing, and exceptional. New attendees shouldn’t worry about being more of a passive absorber during the conference, that’s fine and you shouldn’t feel like anyone is pushing you out of your comfort zone. But if you’re there, and you feel like leaping… there’s plenty of good folks there to catch you.
What is the Presentation Summit?
For 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: October 9 to 12, 2022
Location: San Diego, CA + 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.