Daily Archives: April 17, 2013

Corporate vs. Conference: Jesse Dee’s You Suck at PowerPoint

Jesse Dee’s “You Suck at PowerPoint” is one of the most viewed presentations on Slideshare with over 1 million views.

In his presentation, Jesse lays down the five biggest mistakes PowerPoint users make and provides some fixes for these problems. Jesse Dee’s 5 mistakes are:

  1. Too much information, or what Garr Reynolds refers to as a slideument.
  2. Not enough visuals, or text-driven visuals decrease retention, not increase it.
  3. Horrible quality, or in a age of abundance and design, audiences no longer respond to clip art and comic sans.
  4. Visual vomit, or once you have visuals, you must design them for maximum effectiveness.
  5. Lack of prep, or the number one reason why users rely on bullets and templates is because of a lack of content development and rehearsal time.

Because of its popularity and in your face honesty about the misuse of PowerPoint by individuals and corporations alike, the presentation often faces a bit of resistance and backlash. Today, a response to Jesse Dee’s presentation was posted on Slideshare:

The presentation, by design firm Stinson Design, calls attention to several of Dee’s suggestions that Stinson Design believes just won’t work for corporate presenters. The deck makes a distinction between corporate and conference presenters based on the level of control one type of presenter has than another does not. Conference presenters, according to the deck “have control on their content and can decide to present minimal amounts of data” (Source). In contrast, corporate presenters are limited because they must present dense amounts of information and data. The distinction is unclear to me because as a conference attendee, I’ve seen conference presenters display dense amounts of information and data (unfortunately, mostly using bullet points and poorly designed data display), and as a presenter, I was restricted by time, audience type, and subject matter. As someone who has watched four years of “corporate” business pitches, I’ve also seen dense data and complex financial information be presented in a cinematic way that still shows the investor that the presenter is knowledgeable and able to communicate the complex using simplicity.

In the deck, several challenges corporate presenters face in using the cinematic method of presentation design are brought to light. However, instead of looking at these challenges as reasons to abandon the universal principles of design used by 21st century presenters, let’s look at some of these challenges as opportunities. In every instance, presenting well is a challenge; it’s all about being up to the challenge!

Challenge #1: Cutting content is not always possible because corporate presenters have A LOT  of information to communicate

Jesse Dee provides a reasonable solution for this. Use one slide for each piece of content, data, and information. Stinson believes that the amount of information that needs to be presented makes this solution impossible. However, as instructional designers and teachers have learned, the working memory is a finite container (Source). It’s working memory that we are addressing when presenting information to others, and that part of our minds can only retain so much information before information begins to flow over the top of that container and out of our minds. As Julie Dirksen points out, “You can keep handing material to your learners, but you can’t make them carry it around” (Source). So, we must focus as presenters on what’s really necessary; we must be ruthless editors and only include what’s necessary on a set of slides. Similarly, we must understand that slides are not always necessary. A few days ago, I shared this tongue in cheek example of a PowerPoint version of The Gettysburg Address. The idea Lincoln was communicating was complex, controversial, and challenging. He uses ingenuity, the brevity of words, and pathos to communicate this complex idea to his audience in a way that has resonated for hundreds of years.

But, this doesn’t mean that we are sacrificing information for design, not at all. Your audiences can easily (actually much more easily than on a slide) read through dense amounts of information on a document (and that document can be designed for maximum readability, flow, and retention) that you hand out as an accompaniment to your slides, which are not meant to be containers of your information, but an enhancement of your content. This is not a “luxury” as the deck claims. It is simply good old-fashioned troubleshooting. It also helps keep the presentation of content relevant to the audience. Despite what we tell ourselves, our audiences don’t want all of the information on a slide (even if they are conditioned to this). Subconsciously, the mind wants to be able to easily and clearly make sense of information. This is best accomplished by breaking up dense information into smaller chunks.

Challenge #2: It’s easier for a conference presenter to find imagery than a corporate presenter because corporate presenters need niche-specific images

I want to address this challenge very simply. It is not easy to find strong imagery–for anyone. The process of finding and choosing strong images requires time, ingenuity, and at times metaphorical thinking. I sometimes spend hours looking for one image, only to have to revise my approach because I am restricted to commercially-available images only (which is the same challenge corporate presenters face). On this blog, I’ve shared several ways to search through compfight.com, which is one of the best resources for free images available to corporate folks. Another option is the use of commercially-available iconography, such as those found on The Noun Project.

Challenge #3: Custom fonts are great but they are not so great for sharing a presentation with others. Similarly, standard fonts are not really that bad as long as the material is clear/readable

I have to agree with the creators of the deck that a standard font is not really THAT bad when it comes to design, and if one has to use a font like Arial, that’s at least better than using comic sans or herculenum. However, what makes a standard font problematic is that just like standard stock imagery, your audience is desensitized to it. This is not to say that I believe one must use a custom font (many of which are free), but using a typeface that connects to your audience, message, and theme can help set your message apart from others in your audience’s mind. Presentation designer Christin Upshaw puts the choice of font quite well:

“[U]sing just a basic font that EVERYONE has (Arial, Tahoma, etc.) is absolutely the right course of action. That doesn’t mean your presentation has to have bad design, it just means the font can’t be something you purchased. You can still make it look great.”

So, what do you do if your client does not have a font installed on his or her computer? If the license allows distribution, give them the font. Even better, export your work as a pdf (which is how many Slideshare users, including Stinson Design, upload their work) and distribute a static, unchanging, and well-designed file to your attendees.

Challenge #4: PowerPoint is still most often used, so it’s the best way to create your work and distribute it to others

Yes, PowerPoint is still the standard, but what’s awesome about tools like Slide Rocket, Google Docs, and Keynote is that files can be converted to PowerPoint (Keynote actually opens PowerPoint files..something I doubt Microsoft will ever add to PowerPoint) and shared with your audience. Neat, right?


So, what’s your take on the corporate vs. conference style of presenting? Are these really unsurmountable challenges?

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