This blog is part two in a three-part series on the development of presentations and presenting in the digital age. You can read the first installment of the series here.
Back in the “Mad Men” era, slides for B2B presentations were a laborious affair. Usually several members of an internal graphics department were required to create them, or the work had to be contracted out to another business altogether.
Beginning in the 1980s, such artisan slides began a quick glide into obsolesence. Desktop computers – whose processing power surged exponentially throughout the decade – led to the creation of programs to create slides using pre-programmed templates. They could then be printed on transparencies in just a few minutes. That eventually led to PowerPoint. By the mid-1990s, PowerPoint was an ubiquitous presence in the business world. These days, PowerPoint slides can be rendered on tablets or even smartphones. Digital technology means they are rarely even printed out these days. With the advent of webinars and video streaming, the audience itself may be distributed throughout the world.
PowerPoint is among the first digital technologies of B2B communication, and certainly the most dominant. But its looming presence has done much to flatten the content PowerPoint is designed to communicate.
As Ian Parker noted in his 2001 New Yorker article, PowerPoint is a method of pitching an idea as opposed to communicating thoughts. And while it has helped countless people overcome a fear of public speaking, it “is almost surreptitiously, a business manual as well as a business suit, with an opinion—an oddly pedantic, prescriptive opinion—about the way we should think. It helps you make a case, but it also makes its own case: About how to organize information, how much information to organize, how to look at the world.” And if you have a new thought that comes to mind during a PowerPoint presentation, you can be at a loss of communicating it to the audience because there’s no slide for that.
PowerPoint’s ubiquity in the business world also tends to render presentations that use it ubiquitous as well. So it is often axiomatic that they lack eye-catching graphics (most users use PowerPoint’s stock graphics) and, as a result, drone on.
However, digital presentations can also suffer the same issue. The techy bells and whistles may cover the fact that there is not enough relevant information included in the presentation. And sideshows such as audience polling can prove distracting from the presenter’s primary points.
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 Parker, Ian. “Absolute Powerpoint.” The New Yorker. 28 May 2001. <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2001/05/28/absolute-powerpoint>. Accessed 27 August 2017.