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Tips on creating presentations with personality

Pete’s Law: Results From The PowerPoint Ban


Management Secrets Revealed

I was talking to a friend last week who has a very responsible job in a respected financial corporation, with a title like Asia-Pacific Grand Wizard of Operations or something. Let’s call him Pete. He’s responsible for thousands of staff, so he’s bombarded with reams and terabytes of information every hour.

Why does he seem so calm?

“I’ve worked out how to stay on top of it all,” he told me gleefully (and he’s not aware I write about presentations). “I’ve banned flummoxing* PowerPoint.”

His problem is that when staff present to a boss-type guy, they feel they have to provide a certain level of ‘substance’. Which means a couple of ideas, submerged in so much filler and padding that you need an echo sounder to find them.

Too Much Now, And More To Read Later

“They used to come in with these 98-slide presentations, which they wouldn’t have time to get through in the meeting. So they’d give me a bound copy of the slides to read later, as if I wanted to do that,” he recounted with a shudder.  “My desk was completely covered with the flummoxing things, and I had to do something before I got completely buried.”

This called for decisive action, so Pete banned PowerPoint and gave everyone a limit of a 2 page Word document for all proposals and presentations.

“If you can’t fit an idea into two pages, go away and get a clearer idea,” he says.

Apart from anything else, he’s annoyed by the people printing everything in 36 point type “Like a confounded* children’s book. What’s wrong with normal size writing?”

Life After The Ban

Benefits aplenty have flowed from Pete’s Law. Meetings are shorter. Staff spend less time constructing monster slide decks.

Most importantly, people are focusing on the ideas themselves, refining them until they make sense when you say them out loud. There’s more progress and less defensive butt-covering.

“I can give them a response right then and there, because I can actually understand what they’re talking about now,” Pete said.

You can blame PowerPoint itself, with its little toggle button that goes seductively from ‘Screen Show’ to ‘Pages’. But really, it’s just software and you can control what it does.  You can’t expect PowerPoint to clarify woolly thinking.

Presentations and documents are completely different media, and it’s just lazy to print and bind. Bad for the environment, bad for the brain.

Condense Your Information, Twice

If you want to leave people with information, don’t print the slides.  Write yourself a short summary document.

Show people your summary. Does it make sense? Do your main ideas stand out? Good.

Now throw your old slides away and use the summary document as the basis for a new, shorter slide show. Remember, it’s all about getting your ideas across, not filling up an allocated time slot.

*This blog is now operating under the Nice Nigel Code of Swearing, so some original terms have been translated.

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