Recently, an article in The Guardian accused Microsoft PowerPoint of killing critical-thought. It's both impassioned and thought-provoking, and far from the first.
Critics have blamed Power Point for everything from boring meetings and shoddy content to the downfall of human civilization (ok not really, but almost). Sheryl Sandberg famously tried to ban PowerPoint in all her meetings.
Meanwhile, our choice of presentation tools is exploding. Apple Keynote, Prezi, Google Slides, Haiku Deck and Slide Shark are but the beginning.
So what should we modern presenters do?
Should we really ditch PowerPoint? Should we instead flee to Keynote, Prezi, Google Slides or another upstart? Should we just all use chalk and blackboard?
The answer is none of the above.
Because you already have the best presentation tool in the world - it's YOU.
Or rather, it's the great communicator in you.
Great communicators will rock with anything
Take a moment and think back to the worst presentation you ever sat through.
Go ahead. Recall and relive the traumatic details.
The speaker likely seemed as bored as you were. He hid himself behind the podium as if you all had Ebola. He started meekly and took way too long to say nothing, go nowhere. The content was disorganized, ill-conceived and entirely irrelevant to you. He spoke... well, read monotonously in your language but without being understandable...
Are you nauseous yet?
Do you still think, among all these problems, that the speakers' issue was the software? That simply switching from PowerPoint to Prezi or a blackboard would have made him compelling and eloquent?
Let’s be real here. Some communicators are so bad, they'd suck with anything.
You could resurrect Pablo Picasso to live paint their visual aid, and they'd put caffeinated babies straight to sleep and make poor old Pablo ask back into the grave.
The great communicators, on the other hand... the Steve Jobs, Brene Brown, Cheryl Sandberg and Sir Ken Robinson of this world - They'd dazzle you with anything.
You could give them the worst PowerPoint slides ever designed, they'd still be awesome (by pressing the B key).
You could have them sitting on dirt floor wearing nothing but dusty rags, with only sticks and gravel as visual aid – and they’d still rock your world and light a fire in you.
Great communicators will rock with anything, because they use their considerable intelligence to pick the right way to present for each situation.
Great communicators start from the audience - who they are, what they like, and what presentation format they're most comfortable with.
Great communicators consider the setting - They know that text-dense slides aren't ideal for an open discussion with five teenagers in a cafe, just as simplistic slides won't satisfy a crowd of technical experts looking for detailed evidence.
And great communicators are smart and creative about matching content with method - They know that to tell engaging human stories, slides aren't necessary (and can even get in the way). But they also know it's difficult to describe great artworks with only blackboards or flip charts.
Getting our priorities right
So instead of saying to people: "NEVER use this tool!" or "always go with that tool because it's the best!", we ought to focus on training great communicators who can think intelligently about how they express themselves.
If we simply dictate how people should present, nothing will get better. They'll continue to use the wrong tools for the wrong occasion, hurting both understanding and relationships.
Let's instead teach them to navigate this new, strange world by their own smarts.
If everyone were better communicators, they'd know to pick the right tool for a given situation, and to use it to its strengths to improve understanding, action, and relationships.
If everyone were better communicators, the really bad tools would soon go out of business, and the survivors would vastly improve from all the insightful user feedback.
If everyone were better communicators, well... we communication coaches would be out of work.
And I can hardly wait for that day to dawn.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
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