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I have been reading a lot about Power Point presentations...and started thinking that how we use Power Point is not for presentations, it is our end deliverable...which is more likely than not something that will be read rather than presented.

We have moved from trying to tell a story through writing to telling a story through pictures, but in the pictures sometimes you miss the nuances that make the story rich. What can we do to make our storytelling richer and more meaningful to decision-makers...

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Hi Melanie -- great discussion!

I've been experimenting with more and more deliverables that aren't powerpoint -- using mindmaps, whiteboard / flipchart sessions, and many hand drawn diagrams and maps (up to 11 X 17 size).

I think the standard powerpoint slide format is too restrictive to convey concepts and tell stories -- where I have been using powerpoint is to build larger-format information graphics (to use Tufte's term -- for words and graphics integrated together) / build visual language diagrams (Robert Horn's terminology -- again for words and graphics integrated together). You can easily build 11 X 17 deliverables in powerpoint and quite a bit bigger if you have a plotter.

The whiteboard / flipchart sessions have been a big hit with clients -- what I've been doing there, is even when I already have the analysis complete, I'll bring in some notes on what I plan to draw but essentially start from scratch on post-it flipchart sheets in the meeting. That way we co-create the outcomes -- people stay engaged all the way along, and have their own "aha" moments (and even new "aha" moments) to make the results their own.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on how to improve our storytelling? What are the needs and what is missing?

A great topic and timely. SCIP has instituted a "Powerpoint-Free-Zone" with their interactive sessions for the 2010 SCIP conference. So it takes a substantial mind shift to approach a presentation without that crutch.

I'm an advocate for some of this, though to drop the crutch entirely can be a little nerve-wracking. I've been reading through Edward Tufte's "THE COGNITIVE STYLE OF POWERPOINT", looking for different ways to structure material. I believe I can put the presentation I pitched without any overheads or powerpoint at all...but it really does shake things up a bit.

Good story telling doesn't need visual aids, but presenting convincing evidence takes SOME sort of presentation. So we have to get creative and think about what the key material is. What needs a visual supplement, and what can be conveyed verbally or by other means?

I recently took a class on recognizing different learning styles, playing off of different "intelligences". We are creatures of habit - even when the habitual ways aren't as effective. It's still the path we know. We don't trust our ability to deliver the goods via a less familiar path.

I find knowing my audience is the key to effective story telling. In the case of decision makers, I often find out what analytical tools they use, for example. Also their hobbies so I can use them to tell the story. This takes a little more work on your end to figure out how they're motivated. I don't have anything against PowerPoint, if the audiences likes the crutch which many of them do. I recall for 1 M&A presentation we did when I was in the corporate world we used only 3 charts, and the rest was all talking around them. That approach worked for the audience, and the acquisition concluded at the end of our presentation. We did a lot of work beforehand to learn who would be attending the meeting, who was for and again the acquisition candidate we liked, and why and what would motivate them to change their mind. So I think rather than getting to hung up on what your presentation looks like (well that counts too), I find knowing your audience and figuring out a way to persuasively share your ideas keeping in mind their motivation, almost always works. I hope this helps. BTW I like your friend, Ali!

I know you're also a fan of Andy Abela's presentation book, as I recall you were one of those he thanked in the beginning, but for the sake of those who don't know about his book on presentations, it's a keeper: to connect to his website/blog and the book. At SCIP in NY he taught a 1 day workshop on this "Extreme Presentation" methodology, and it was an excellent session.


Hi Melanie´-- very important discussion! I may not have any new wisdom to this issue but I just wanted to thank for bringing this up. I use powerpoint-presentations only to give the audience some headlines of my story. So do most of us, I gather. The rest of the time I try my best to tell the story itself. At best, as Alli writes, it's about co-creation.

desolée si je vais m'exprimer en français, je rejoins vos idées pour l'utilisation de Power Point pour les présentations, c'est trés utiles mais à condition que ca soit pas trop encombrant, il faut juste capter l'attention de l'audience et rappeller uniquement les headlines, en plus ca permet au présentateur d'avoir un fil conducteur. mais c la manière d'exprimer son discours qui fait toute la différence.n'empeche que vous pouvez utiliser des jeu de role et des mise en situation pour mieux ilustrer vos exemples. power point reste un outil par une fin en soi.merci
The other problem with PowerPoint as a deliverable is that it locks your information up in a way that makes it less reusable.
Great discussion topic Melanie. Afraid I am stuck in old school that leverages both Tim Powell's method as well as that backed up by the Pyramid Approach....namely situation, complication (this gets everyone with different levels of understanding onto the same page), question it poses and then answer - backed up by the evidence of the findings, then recommendations with the age old addage, is do nothing an option? Tends not to lend itself to the creative tool kit from Craig Fleisher's and Babette Bensoussan's works, but then there is another discussion on this great forum that professes a 'tool rut'. I have broken rank a couple of times to caputure the 'so what' with a single picture, but then the details of how how this has been reached is quickly followed. I believe that PowerPoint, however, on the whole is senior management's word, being asked to have it in PowerPoint makes it the 'new word
Great topic, Melanie.

Blaming PowerPoint for anything is pretty ridiculous. “A poor workman blames his tools”, as my father used to say.

The English alphabet has only 26 characters--several of which, like Q and Z almost never appear– yet it can be used to write anything from shopping lists to Shakespeare. A quite flexible tool.

PowerPoint is just another tool, and a highly developed one at that. If the results are lousy, it’s because the communicator is, to put it bluntly, lousy. There are many books and web sites written about why this is, but it’s usually a matter of (1) not knowing the key points of immediate interest to your audience, (2) not knowing how to SUCCINCTLY convey them, (3) loading down your “signal” with lots of noise (gratuitous animations and other distractions), or (4) not having a mastery of the tool.

Because PowerPoint is such a powerful tool—its name is apt in all respects—it’s easier to fail with it in epic proportions. We’ve all seen presentations that deftly weave in all four major types of errors. These are usually also the ones that go on and on, and where the presenter reads the bullets. Deadly, deadly dull.

And not effective. The medium really is the message. If people are bored silly, they will not remember – let alone be motivated to act on – what you say.

The most common mistake research professionals make is they go from the bottom of the “knowledge value chain” (data—which they have painstaking gathered), rather than from the top (value – what the user is interested in). In my workshop of the same name, we present three major work phases for a typical intelligence project: PLAN, PROCESS, and PRESENT your work. Intelligence planning goes top down. The intelligence process itself goes bottom up. Presenting findings (what PowerPoint does) again goes top down.

A personal presentation, using PowerPoint with essential talking points for emphasis and illustration, is potentially the most powerful form of communication available today. The next most powerful is a real-time remote that uses a communication conduit like WebEx or Go2Meeting. We’ll see innovations in this space soon as enriched communications tools like Google Wave are rolled out.

A tablet PC with real-time note-taking help this all come alive, so you can waeve in other things like Alli describes.

A relatively weak form, as you point out Melanie, is the stand-alone PPT deck that was originally designed to be used in a real-time presentation. Without benefit of the presentation itself and/or or the presenter to answer questions, these can seem thin and unsubstantial when viewed “offline” at a later time. The impact is diluted or lost.

You always need to think of your “shadow client” – not the one you work with, but the one (who may even be the one who signs your checks) who wants to view your deck later, after you’re gone.

One solution to this is that you can create a media-enriched PPT file that contains your deck, plus the audio of your presentation. This can be done directly from PowerPoint, using the SlideShow feature and a $20 USB microphone. I believe some variation of this is how we’ll all communicate in the near future.

We’ve been experimenting with this for clients and public presentations. I’ve posted two examples on our web site at These were done using PowerPoint 2007 and Adobe Captivate. This creates a Flash movie file that can be burned onto physical media, streamed from your servers over the Internet (as the ones you see are), or uploaded to a third party like YouTube or Vimeo for streaming.

Frankly, I’m not totally happy with these work products – the sound is fuzzy, and the loading is slow without a fast broadband connection. If you can tell me how to improve my results, I’d love to hear about it. (We also tested Camtasia and Articulate before selecting Captivate.)

If you’re on a Mac, Keynote is a worthy rival to PowerPoint, and even better in some respects. Not to be outdone, MS is getting PowerPoint 2010—its Web app version —ready for launch.

Third-part hosting like SlideShare could develop into something really useful if and when they add audio, but without that it’s not ready for prime time.

What’s next? Media-enriched presentations direct to your audience on their smart phones.

The point is, PowerPoint is not only not going away, it’s becoming more ubiquitous. We've worked with one company that produces and internally distributes its weekly senior management intelligence briefings this way.

But what can we do to help stop the glut of lousy PowerPoints? There are some cool ideas on here already.

My two cents.
Very good thoughts, Tim.

The ongoing challenge is that the reality of most corporate practitioner roles is that the communication is a static Powerpoint presentation that needs to convey both the big picture and the details-- That can be for specific project related deliverables or awareness creation (i.e. intelligence briefings). Different companies have different communication protocols and in my experience much of it comes down to PowerPoint. We try to actually present our findings, but they often only reach a small audience in that form. I personally believe discussion is the most actionable intelligence deliverable--where users are most likely to integrate the intelligence into their decision-making, often times not even realizing that they are doing it. But (at least in my world) this is the exception, not the rule, for delivering insights.

I have read lots of books about PowerPoint presentations and presenting data etc. etc. and have seen my fair share of BCG, McKinsey, Deloitte, Accenture etc. etc. etc. consulting presentations. I think there are some common practices that help tell a more impactful story, even if its a static PowerPoint presentation.

For example. story-boarding and planning is an important part of thinking through what you want to say and the messages you want to get across. I have seen (read been guilty of) writing CI briefings using PowerPoint, not having thought through what I want the reader to walk away with or what action I want them to take and then remarkably being frustrated by the fact that no action came from the intelligence.

We have also decided to take a break from PowerPoint and actually write some of our reports. We are using a format that is similar to an investment analyst report and our readers seem to like it.

I love the thoughts being share here. Let's keep it up!
Good points, Melanie.

It my experience decision makers might be asking for INFORMATION, but what they really want is INSIGHT into their strategic or tactical business problem. Failing to understand (and act on) this distinction is one of the top mistakes I see intelligence people making.

How do I know? -- I've been guilty it myself!

I have a client that, like your client, tried making their internal intelligence reports look like investment reports, and found it vey successful. Why did that work? It's a Wall Street-driven company, their top people pay very close attention to what the Street is saying about them and their peers. As a result, securities analyst reports are familiar to them, they understand how they work and what is where.

Wall Street research as a discipline is nearly a century old -- pioneered by the original Merrill Lynch as a way to differentiate themselves from other brokerage firms, then widely imitated -- so they've had plenty of time to work out the kinks. It's a good model for intelligence people to study, learn from -- and IMPROVE upon.

Bear in mind, though that this research -- as good as some of it is -- is only ONE way that Wall Street communicates with their clients. It's kind of their "mass communication" vehicle, but they also use more targeted communications that are deal- and client-specific, especially with their largest and most important clients. They're on the phone, pitching ideas, talking to people.

And, yes, many of their "deal books" are in PowerPoint.
The issue is less about whether PowerPoint is an adequate tool for written end deliverables, but the differences between structuring a briefing/presentation vs a written report. When I was at Deloitte, all our written deliverables were in PowerPoint, but for the deliverables that we were not also presenting, I essentially used PowerPoint more like it was Word. That is, my slides (pages) were text heavy, and I leveraged PowerPoint's graphics capabilities to create a visually appealing report that was a combination of text, text boxes, graphs, images, and other eye candy. So PowerPoint (or today, for me, Keynote - thanks for the plug Tim) can be a perfectly adequate tool for a written report - you just need to not create PowerPoint documents for written end deliverables that resemble a PowerPoint deliverable that would accompany a briefing or presentation. The two are completely different.
I'd say different end-product settings would call for different types of story-telling. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words still stands and I'm a great believer in propagating the use of graphical and other other visual representations in PowerPoint slide packs. So I tend to use pictures quite a lot and usually spend a fair bit of time doing the oral story-telling if I'm presenting in person. If not in person I include the famous disclaimer "this presentation is incomplete without the accompanying oral commentary" and invite my audience to get in touch with me to clarify any uncertainties in the presentation.


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