PowerPoint Revolution in 2009

Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte are New Communicators who have revolutionized the design of PowerPoints in 2008 with their ideas and books Presentation Zen and slide:ology. Read their books, and if you then do just two additional things you might just revolutionize your use of PowerPoints in 2009:

1. Create your PowerPoints last

2. Use Black Slides

What would you like to see in PowerPoint slide design in 2009?

was the request of Olivia Mitchell's 'group post' to several presentation experts and others, and when she posts it in the next few days on her excellent blog "Speaking About Presenting" I hunch you will see a lot of good and complimentary ideas on the design of PowerPoints. So I'm going to emphasize only TWO ITEMS here, which I find extremely important and most people miss in considering the powerful use of PowerPoints:

1. Create your PowerPoints last

There is too much emphasis on PowerPoints - they are NOT the presentation. PowerPoints ARE the presentation if you are giving out a PP deck as a written report (I'm going to use PP as the PowerPoint abbreviation here, and that includes Keynote in the Mac world as well), or you are sending your PPs to SlideShare, or in any similar instance where a PP stands alone and carries the message to a reader - then they ARE the presentation.

But here we are focusing on 'in-person presentations', where the person is the center of the presentation (or should be), and the

  • behavior
  • content and
  • design support

are three parts that combine together to form the communication experience. The medium IS the message, and that medium is not the PPs, but the entire gestalt of behavior, content and design taken as a whole.

Over the PP era of the last 20 years I've seen thousands of presentations, and although most are business presentations (large audience, conferences and smaller meetings) I would estimate 90% of all types of presentations are created by people who go to their computers and start the process by using the PP outliner or going right to writing text and bullets on the slides themselves. So the end result is totally PP driven, and we have information without influence and data without emotion. Remember, Barack Obama did not get to be President by using PowerPoints.

First, figure out what your message is - what is your Point Of View, what Action do you want people to take and what are the Benefits (for them - not you.) We teach people The Decker Grid but there are many systems out there that start with the message first. Once you have your message developed - with three key points, THEN you can figure out how you are going to frame the experience to influence people to buy into your message. And THEN you go to the PPs, and create using Nancy's and Garr's ideas. (And all the other good ideas from the other posts noted above.) And in addition to PPs you have stories, humor, analogies and metaphors, quotes, video clips, etc. etc. You then have an experience.

2. Use Black Slides

This is a simple concept, and yet it is profound when you use it all the time. It's a game changer!

A black slide is simply a PP slide with a black background. You create a black screen. A nothing. (Not a logo.) So whenever you are not using a PP slide to support a point or visualize a concept, your screen is black. (More on Black Slides here.)

This way your presentation becomes you speaking - your energy and drive and enthusiasm - and then you can hit the clicker and draw on your PPs, hit the clicker again and go to a Black Slide as you amplify, or use props, or stories, or exercises, or word pictures, or whatever you choose. You have notes (we recommend using the Grid and Post-its) so you can pause and refer to your notes the few times necessary. But you are freed up from being tied to the PPs. And using the PPs as notes. Or reading from the PPs. Or putting people to sleep. You become a speaker!

I would say that less than 5% of presentations and speeches use the Black Slide concept. Too bad, because it is so powerful - the feedback we get from our clients is dramatic. And it has two other great benefits:

1. Black Slides clear the screen.

Too many leave old ideas on the screen as their speech moves on - you need to clear the screen of any distractions, and a Black Slide does that handily. (Don't use the 'B' button to clear the screen, because when you then use the 'B' button to go back to your PPs you take your audience back to your past idea, and it halts their thinking and your flow.)

2. Black Slides allow you to walk in front of the screen.

Most conference and meeting rooms are erroneously set up with the screen in the middle rather than off to the side. This continues the myth that PPs are the center of the presentation, rather than the presenter and his/her message as the centerpiece of influence. With black slides you can walk in front of the screen without the PP unskillfully reflecting on you. You can move around, and 'own the entire room' rather than being stuck on one side or the other.

Final note: Read all the blogs on PP and presentations from Olivia Mitchell's blog, and from Speaking on Alltop. There are a lot of good ideas and ways to design PPs, and tips and techniques. (BTW, the 2009 version of Keynote for you Mac users is sensational.) All these things are good.

But nothing will ever take away from the personal experience of the presenter with the audience - whether in business (think Steve Jobs) or politics (Barack Obama) or leadership (Winston Churchill.) And many other examples of great men and women of influence who didn't use PowerPoints as a crutch. Make yourself one of them in 2009 - don't RELY on PPs - just use them well.

14 thoughts on “PowerPoint Revolution in 2009
  1. Hi Bert. Thank you for your great blog. Could you please stop assimilating presentation files to Powerpoint? I’m personally using Open Office Impress which works very well and shows Microsoft is not the only one on the market.

  2. Ahhhhh yes. Other than my recent tinkering with some the the pretty little templates in Keynote… I don’t use themes. As a biology teacher, I have used black slides for about ten years in the classroom as well as for presentations that run on their own.
    I always thought it had something to do with the fact that the use of any other color creates a “square” outline on the screen. In my little right-brained world, that just seems a little too much like any old slideshow.
    With black, your words and images become the slides… not the square edge of the slide template.
    Isn’t it funny how something so seemingly small can make a noticeable difference?
    Here is one I have sitting on Slideshare that I immediately thought of: https://www.slideshare.net/nashworld/protecting-ocean-resources-from-missouri-486444/

  3. Nice Post Bert — The biggest problem I see is that people use their PP as a crutch and that is always the hardest habit for them to break. Many people don’t want to use a blank page because of that crutch, but your points on why people need to are right on!
    Travis Dahle

  4. Hi Nicholas,
    The term PowerPoint has become synonymous with slides/slideshow/decks/etc. I mention that PP stands for PP and Keynote, and all of the smaller programs too. Something like Kleenex – any brand of tissue is referred as a Kleenex.

  5. Kathy, The B key is not better – but worse – read subpoint 1 under Black Slides above. The B key makes the audience go back to the old idea – black slides are far better. Use the B key only for emergency black.

  6. Bert,
    Like your tip re. using black slides. I bet that’ll make some of those PowerPoint drones scrim.
    I also agree that presenters should first create their presentation – then create the slides to accompany it.
    A good mindset would be for presenters to always be prepared to deliver their presentation WITHOUT the PowerPoint.
    George Torok

  7. Hi Bert,
    That’s exactly why I never use the word Kleenex. I prefer saying “tissue”.
    I don’t see why using a brand name when the generic word exists. As you mentionned, why not using “slideshow”?
    That word works fine, doesn’t it?
    I find the word Powerpoint confusing, since many people don’t even know other solutions exist… even if you mentionned Keynotes, Slideshare, etc (thank you for that).
    Anyway, it doesn’t affect the global pleasure I have reading your blog… especially this post which is brilliant!

  8. Well, I love ‘brilliant.’ Thanks Nicolas.
    Actually ‘slideshow’ doesn’t quite work as PowerPoint is the medium, slideshow is the event. But that’s splitting hairs. Appreciate your thoughts.

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