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Missing the Point

Optimize Blog - July 31, 2012 - 0 comments

Microsoft recently reported the first quarterly financial loss in its history. The reason was a big acquisition gone sour. Microsoft had to write off more than $6bn that it had spent to acquire Aquantive, an online advertising business. However for us at Zeitgeist more interestingly within the same press release was the news that Microsoft’s first acquisition was now 25 years old and installed on over one billion computers. That acquisition was PowerPoint.
“Death by PowerPoint” is a phrase we hear frequently and certainly in our client engagements we try to keep any presentations down to a minimum but there is no doubt that the PowerPoint application is a very useful tool in communicating information.
The application was originally developed by a start-up firm named Forethought. The company had planned to release it on Windows, before realizing Microsoft’s system was unable to support it and so they switched their efforts to creating a version for Apple Computer’s new Macintosh, which had been released in 1984.
Sensing a demand for the software, Apple even helped fund the program’s development with its first venture capital investment. Microsoft didn’t give up its pursuit of the company though and eventually raised their offer sufficiently to take over the company. After the acquisition, it took three more years of programming to improve Windows and create a version of PowerPoint for it. In 1990, Bill Gates used PowerPoint to dramatically demonstrate the new capabilities of Windows 3.0.
The rest is history as they say. PowerPoint is now widely used in businesses, schools, conferences and it seems just about any meeting attended regardless of the subject matter and audience.
Using PowerPoint effectively will aid any presentation but overuse can upstage you as the presenter. The goal of any presentation is to make sure that the audience understands and retains your message. So if you find yourself needing to use a presentation pack and PowerPoint is your weapon of choice, here are a couple of tips…..
First, a strong presentation has a strong structure and your slides should support that structure. Second, keep your slides to a minimum – the adage of ‘Less is more’ applies here. Exclude anything that doesn’t support your message. If all your main points can be reflected in one diagram use only that one slide. Third, each slide should only have one point. Each slide should argue a point that supports your overall message. Fourth, know your audience and adapt your messages accordingly.
Next, make sure that your charts and graphs are simple and clear. How many times are we confronted with a busy slide that is simply too complex to unravel? This destroys the impact of your message. Word slides should simply carry one message with supporting bullets – PowerPoint is not a medium for showing off the depth of your vocabulary. All slides should be jargon free and excess content belongs in the notes that you can distribute at the end of your presentation.
Finally we need to remember that even the most well thought through and constructed presentation slide deck does not inspire or convey conviction. It is you and not the LCD Projector delivering value to the audience – the slides merely illustrate the point that you are making. Do not become passive and simply read out the slides – you need to speak with strong conviction, bring expression and commitment into your voice and use gestures to communicate your belief in the message that you are conveying.
So, as PowerPoint celebrates its 25th birthday let us enjoy the ongoing capability it provides but understand that as leaders we are delivering the message and no glitzy slides will do that for us……..

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