Presenting – bringing in the new way to old industries

The “new way” of presenting seems to be diffusing pretty rapidly through the high tech/web communities, with some industries having seen the back of death by powerpoint bullets.

There isn’t really a “new way” – it’s just that people are beginning to really care about how they present.  The “new way” is really just “anything but the old way”, and it ertainly is not lots of words, repeating logos and bullets.

But there is a long way to go. Older, larger and more corporate companies have an addiction to verbose Powerpoint to kick – they are pretty much the  same companies and industries that thank that Apple computers have no place in a corporate network. (If you have Macs then you probably have people that care about aesthetics and you have Steve Jobs fans, and he has been one of the leaders of the presentation revolution.)

Over here in Western Australia, death by Powerpoint is alive and well, and the ideas from Steve Jobs, Duarte Design, Larry Lessig, Al Gore, Presentation Zen and so on are foreign concepts. And yes – even Apple is barely making an impact.

So we decided to help.

At Kwinana Nickel Refinery, employee and contractor teams now present improvement ideas to their peers and the GM every quarter. They get a few minutes only, but  with 3 to 5 teams presenting in each session, we have to keep the time down to 3-4 minutes each.

To help the presenters quickly tell a great story, we simply work on the slides together with the presenter. We introduce simple things like dewordificaton (down to one or no words), increasing the size of photos to the entire page and increasing the number of slides so there is one point per slide.* The preparation time for each presentation wis, at worst, a few minutes in front of a screen with the presenter and a walk around the site to take photos, and at best they get it and do it all themselves.

The results so far have been amazing – really amazing. In fact we were staggered.

Each quarter we have about 40 people present from all over the plant – from shift operators to engineers, and the worst presentations are merely excellent, while the best presentations are really inspiring.

The sldies make it easy for the person up front to tell their story.

The instinct when you are in front of a big group (30-60) is to turn, look at the screen and start describing what is there. It’s a giant black hole of bullet point death.

But now the screen typically shows a giant photo, and no bullets, so the presenters just turn back to the audience to tell their great story. In the first round we usually drove the slides while the presenter told the story, in the second round almost everybody chose to drive the slides themselves with a remote clicker. We also didn’t have to do as much preparation work for the second round – people just get it.

Sadly corporate Powerpoint templates are not the best for creating inspirational slides – so we took the BHP Billiton one and made a black background version.  That template has now been used on an increasing number of presentations that have gone well beyond the refinery – so here’s hoping for a quiet revolution.

But wait
1: Dense Powerpoint slides still have their place – in small groups, at senior level whee they want lots of information quickly, and where you are trying to develop and pitch a concept. But – these are not for the screen, but for paper print outs that you can scribble on.

2: While McKinsey and other consulting firms are dependent on the Powerpoint Decks, (like these guys), for real intellectual rigor and structure nothing beats a “vertical” written document. I’ve had the pleasure of working on a few and they really are a lot tougher to do than a deck, demonstrating the crisper thinking that is required. Think about the infamous Powerpoint slides used for Iraq post-war planing – a vertical document would have exposed the gaps very quickly.

*I’d love to show some of the slides from KNR – but I cannot.  

Published by Lance Wiggs


4 replies on “Presenting – bringing in the new way to old industries”

  1. hi lance,
    by ‘vertical’ written document, do you simply mean ‘portrait’ orientation, as opposed to the de facto ‘landscape’ in powerpoint?
    If so, in order to “demonstrate the crisper thinking that is required” do you advocate a portrait-oriented powerpoint deck? or something like a word document instead?

    also, have you ever been to a Pecha Kucha event? Originating from the world of architecture, “a Pecha Kucha night is an event format in which presenters show a slideshow of 20 images, each of which is shown for 20 seconds” . Looks like they’re up and running in Perth – While the content may not be of your interest (they’re open to anyone willing to have a go), the presentation style brings about some interesting show-pieces…


  2. Tom
    you are right – by Vertical I mean a structured written document, which requires you to fill out all those bullet points and crisply explain all of those byzantine charts.

    Pecha Kucha loks cool – I will try to make the next one..

    FR – they are all ex McK, BCG and so forth – so it seems like overabsorption. I’d love to see a real document out of them, as they are certainly capable of it.


  3. Pingback: Lance Wiggs

Comments are closed.