Tuesday, February 24, 2009

To slide or not to slide

Slideware is perhaps one of the most misused useful tools on the computer. Given the ease of doing page layout on presentation software, people often start using tools like Powerpoint for:
  • Reports;
    • for showcases;
    • to convey status;
    • to make a proposal;
    • to outline a strategy;

  • Brainstorming;
  • Documents;

The key things to remember however are:
  1. Powerpoint is a tool that operates on lower resolutions -- word processing tools can handle much better resolutions and are better equipped to handle huge amounts of text than Powerpoint.
  2. Powerpoint is meant for a visual display to a large audience. Viewing a document in full screen with no access to other applications, is perhaps not the most efficient way to use the tool.
  3. A text heavy presentation with an 18 point font, is perhaps of no use to anyone:
    • Firstly your text is too small to be visible;
    • Secondly, if your text is visible, then you're not needed in the room. People could just read the slide.

So I feel the use of Powerpoint or other slideware should be limited to creating supporting visuals for a talk for a sizeable audience. So what should you be doing in the above situations? Here are my suggestions

  • Reports: I feel for A3 reports are a great tool for process improvement, problem solving, outlining strategy, conveying status and making proposals. The power of the A3 is in the supporting PDCA thinking and the fact that it constrains you to structure your report into just 1 piece of paper. The idea is to know that "Less is more" and if you can't express your strategy/proposal/status/approach on one large sheet is possibly not worth expressing. There are a variety of templates available here and here to create A3 reports. The key thing to remember is that being able to hold the A3 in your hands and going through the report as a team is infinitely more valuable than doing a text heavy presentation that no one listens to.
  • Brainstorming: Powerpoint's just not the place to start slamming together your thoughts. In fact its not even a good collection mechanism for your ideas. I prefer simple hand drawn sketches, sticky style brainstorming and mind mapping to make my thoughts explicit. Mindmapping in particular is one of my favorites. I use Imindmap but there are also dozens of free tools that can help you do the trick.
  • Documents: Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They have two different purposes. If you want people to read, give them a document. If you want to present a concept, create slides (if you need them). If there has to be information that people have to read, then please create a document, send it in an email and cancel the presentation. Trust me, everyone prefers this than a presentation where you're reading from slides.

I felt like writing this post since I feel slideware is being abused way too much in the corporate world and as a consequence gets a bad name. The problem however, is in the way we use presentation tools. If this post can make a difference and make slideware more effective for some people, that will perhaps make me really happy.


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