Monday, January 29, 2007

Really Bad PowerPoint - a Seth Godin idea that didn't spread

Some years back, the inimitable Mr Godin wrote a lovely little ebook on the topic of PowerPoint. He proposed some excellent and beautifully expressed ideas on how to use that tool to greater effect when you are presenting to an audience.

Here we are at the beginning of 2007, and Seth seems a little peeved that his suggestions have not been, shall we say, wholeheartedly embraced, by the presenters of the world. From his blog:

"Really Bad Powerpoint - I wrote this about four years ago, originally as an ebook. I figured the idea might spread and then the problem would go away - we'd no longer see thousands of hours wasted, every single day, by boring PowerPoint presentations filled with bullets. Not only has it not gone away, it's gotten a lot worse."
Well, I'm sorry to have to say this Seth, but du-uh!

I have decided to bow to the inevitable and take a leadership stance on behalf of dreadful, lazy; self-indulgent presenters everywhere. May I humbly present my Appalling Presenter's Manifesto. This way, when abysmal presentation sweeps over the planet like a plague from the old testament, I can take due credit - or blame - for it. [This is kind of like when Uri Geller rang in to a television station that had just announced that Big Ben has stopped and said, "Hey! That was me! I made that happen!"]


Just in case there is anyone who is unaware of your ineptitude, indolence, ignorance and supercilious nature, make sure you include a minimum of seven (7) of the following elements in your next presentation:

  • Ass Narcissism (N'arse'issism) - "I’m going to turn my back on you now and read all my slides off the screen. Enjoy the view!"
  • Tolstoy Wannabe - "I know that I can fit the entire text of War & Peace onto the next three slides. Thank God for sub-bullets!"
  • Oblivious Myopia - these presenters literally cannot and do not want to see beyond the end of their nose and so fail to notice that their audience is either asleep or has gone home.
  • Friendly Face Tunnel Vision - those who can see only the one person in the audience who is smiling and nodding out of sympathy, not the other 99 who have fallen asleep/gone home.
  • "I'm Eclipse Boy!" - "There must be some moth in my genetic heritage; but you can read the slide off my chest can’t you?"
  • Hypoempathy - presenters who use the phrase, “Now this is a very important point” more than once never ask themselves the essential question - important to who?
  • "Gotta sing, gotta dance" - "Sure, this topic could have been covered in an email, but what can I say? I just loooove being bathed in the glow of the data projector."
  • Jazz Hands - a subset of "Gotta Sing" in which the presenter imitates a puppeteer on speed [thanks Mike].
  • Slide Amnesia - a subset of Ass Narcissism, when the presenter seems surprised that a certain slide has popped up on screen and is therefore forced to read it out word for word …
  • Dispunctional - the presenter has no concept of time and is eating into the next presenter's slot or, worse yet, into coffee break.
  • Complarrogance - a rare condition, characterised by all of the above symptoms.
... See? It's working already! Witness the virus of my idea is spreading, slowly ... insidiously ... silently. Bwuhahahahaha!

For some slightly less sarcastic and more practical advice on improving your presentation skills, click here to get to my Presenting and Speaking blog.
You can find Seth's ebook here. He also very kindly commented on this post ...


Shane Lydon said...

Superb! A few more days of the viral spread and you can contact the UN and demand "One millyun dollars ..." for the antidote.

You DO have an antidote, don't you?

seth godin said...

it's perfect!

Rowan Manahan said...

Er ... the labs are working on it ... it got into some kind of loop in Fedex, but we have a tracking number ... I put a call in on that this morning ... and this guy ... is going to call me back. Soon.

Rowan Manahan said...

Why, thank you Seth

Laura said...

Love it.

Could we see this blog post as a PowerPoint presentation?


Rowan Manahan said...

Close-ups of my Armani-clad ass as I read out slides? Bullet points projected directly onto my (admittedly widescreen) stomach?

We're getting dangerously close to pornography there Laura. And besides - I'm not that kind of guy.

John Reidy said...


naomi said...

very good! i empathize with you greatly. :o) lolz.
however, there is also the problem of the actual powerpoint itself. often when listening to presentations, i hear many stupid noises(F1 racers), cartoons(something completely unrelated to the topic at hand) and animation (also completely unrelated). I HATE THIS.
perhaps we could have another section of the blog for the powerpoints rather than the people.
i think this one could be called Absolute Fourth Grade Syndrome or something of the sort.
Not sure about this...
but hey!
Very Good!

Rowan Manahan said...

You've hit the nail on the head with the '4th Grade' moniker. I just can't see that the problem is with PowerPoint itself. My car can go at 130mph, but you couldn't blame the manufacturer if I mow down a bunch of pedestrians in the park.

Once in a blue moon, you need a sound effect; once in a blue moon you need a fancy animation. When you see them judiciously applied, by a strong preesnter, they can be very effective.

My over-riding problems with the business of presenting centre on people - people who present when they shouldn't and people who put little or no effort into putting their pitch together. For me, the fact that 99% of people who make lousy presentations use the tools built into PowerPoint is beside the point.

I used to watch people of that ilk using black and white acetates on an OHP and later, Harvard Graphics for DOS - zero tricks, animations or effects, but still ATROCIOUS presentations.

Microsoft are guilty of lots of things, but save your rotten fruit, eggs and tomatoes for the presenter, not the tools he/she uses.

Mike said...

Love the post and the comments, how about adding this to the list:

- Jazz Hands - those people who imitate a puppeteer on speed whilst presenting (aka me :-()

Linked on my blog - keep it up!


Rowan Manahan said...

Fabulous Mike! I've now included it in the Manifesto. Thank you.


Rob said...

Nothing against Bill & the rest of the Microsoft gang, but PowerPoint is the devil.

A slideshow should support the verbal presentation, not be the presentation. You're not serving anyone's needs - yours or theirs - by simply reading slides to the audience like a small child.

Rowan Manahan said...

PowerPoint with cloven hooves, horns, and a tail? You're probably not far off Rob.

Certainly the software can delimit a user's thinking very quickly - but only if they let it.

I'm fairly sure that all of the most mind-blowing presentations I have seen (as distinct from speeches) were produced on PowerPoint. It's just that those great presenters took the time and trouble to originate great content with a great look-and-feel and then worked long and hard on a great delivery.

The majority of presentations that I have to sit through are nothing more than a first draft. Someone has banged a few half-formed ideas up in bullet point form and proceeds to stand up and read them out to me. Is that the software's fault or the author's?

hilary said...

Loving it!

The only useful/memorable powerpoint presentation I have ever seen (and I have slept through many)was in the style of Bob Dylans subterranean homesick blues video; check it out on youtube for the unfamiliar/perplexed. The presented used word/image association and single slides rapidly as he spoke. The speaker known to me suffered greatly from a speech impediment but his wonderful presentation style completely disguised it. One enjoyable experience out of a thousand many wasted hours...days...lives...

Cathy Martin said...

You have got to see this utube video from a comedian on Powerpoint it is hysterical:

Cathy Martin, Intellectual Capital Consulting