Opinion: It's time to pull the plug on PowerPoint

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Opinion: It's time to pull the plug on PowerPoint

In the era of the podcast and myriad other pervasive, rich media, view-anytime communications technologies, do we need live presentations?

PowerPoint has become synonymous with the slick technology salesman type, ratcheting up his acquisitive hard-sell spiel. Dressed like a modern-day mobster of the 1930s in his crisp Italian suit, peacocking around the stage. No tie; ties are passé. He reeks of deception. Held captive, the audience suffers the pitch and disarming platitudes before he attempts to infiltrate their psyches with nefarious sales techniques. The punters mostly comprise corporate conscripts, taking it all in; all that is missing is canned laughter.

I do not like corporate presentations because so few are any good. PowerPoint, although admittedly useful, has become a social crutch for those not wanting to look into the eyes of their audience. The result is often a set of dull slides with embedded banal clip-art of crazed ducks hitting computers with sledgehammers.

More poignantly, we seem to live in an age where everything requires a presentation. Where managers feel the need to gather their workers around them to be sure that delivery of the corporate message has been successful.

I wonder how many company communications gurus have questioned this PowerPoint-driven herd mentality. Are those who give presentations forced into it and terrified by the experience? Or maybe, if not mentally incapacitated by fear, they feel they do not possess any thespian or oratory-type qualities of note?

It seems that most people who feel comfortable presenting are confident that what they have to say is something everyone else wants to hear, although I suspect this is rarely the case.

The answer is to do away with the presentation as a common occurrence. Also, champion the business value of more emotionally intelligent communication mechanisms.

Employees should never be forced into giving presentations ­ they should be voluntary and rare. As long as the method of communication is effective and appropriate, the delivery mechanism is inconsequential.

The economics of gathering large numbers of people in one place does not add up; especially if those staff have had to travel a long way to attend a presentation. What is the return on investment of causing staff to break their routines, incur travel costs and be unproductive for hours or a full day?

There are some great speakers out there, but they are few and far between. It is more likely that the average presentation will be thoroughly uninspiring and littered with statistics, narcolepsy-inducing Gantt charts or unpalatable SSADM models.

So, if you are an alpha male-type bent on forcing your staff to give pointless presentations, maybe it is time to question your business rationale. I offer you the following common-sense arguments to avoid oblivion by PowerPoint.

Often people do not like doing or seeing workplace presentations.

Technology has provided many imaginative forms of alternative communications.

If you make your staff uncomfortable, they will be unproductive or leave your employment, maybe taking valuable commercial knowledge to a competitor.

Just because staff are physically present in a presentation does not mean they are listening or engaged.

PowerPoint is an off-the-peg, one-size-fits-all product; we are in the tailored, Web 2.0, consumer-centric, inspired productivity era. Turn on, tune in and drop out of PowerPoint presentations.

Steve Hipwell is an IT officer at Birmingham City University

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