In the beginning there were words. Human beings have always given presentations to one another, we just used to call it storytelling. We told stories to teach each other things, to entertain. Some think storytelling may have even contributed to our species’ evolutionary edge. It turns out it’s useful to be able to learn from the experiences of others.
Then came the visuals. Spoken words are only sounds, so visuals added a new dimension to our stories. We used props and acted out scenes to enhance our meaning and empower our stories with more emotion. Fast forward to the era of electricity and the visuals took the form of slides. A 35mm projector shined photographs on a large white screen while we told our stories, only at this point we had stopped calling them stories. We decided the act of “giving a presentation” was something different, something professional and serious. Something that had rules. Stories were demoted to the realm of entertainment and children’s play.
Over the past two decades, electronic slideshow software like Microsoft PowerPoint has replaced the 35mm projector and, with that, presentations have crept their way deep into our lives. For a lot of us, a day does not go by that doesn’t involve reading, watching, or making a presentation. It is a standard tool in business, used for internal and external company communications. In the education world students use electronic slides to accompany their group projects and oral presentations. It’s show and tell, now with bullet points.
Presentations have become a standard part of life, and with that a standard has developed for how presentations should look. Sadly, it’s a standard that is set low–very low. Anyone who has sat through a typical presentation knows what I’m referring to. The repetitive lists of bullet points. The bad templates garnished with equally bad animations and irrelevant “clip art”. Simply put, the standard electronic presentations of today are boring and ugly.
That’s harsh, I know. But it’s true. It is the state of presentations.
As presenters we welcome the standard. Public speaking is hard, in fact it’s downright scary for some people. Having a standard makes the whole process a lot easier. So long as our slides are in the corporate template everything in the presentation will be okay, right?
As audience members we dread the standard. We don’t like being forced to waste precious hours of our lives listening to someone read single serving lists of text from a screen in a dark room. We can only distract ourselves with our Blackberries for so long while we pretend to listen.
So, easy to make or painful to watch? Which perspective should we keep in mind when crafting our presentations?
Fortunately, the state of presentations is changing. The volume of literature relating to presentation theory is growing every day, and more and more people are realizing the standard is optional.
Presentations are about storytelling, they always have been and they still are. Remember that and you've taken a very big step in the right direction.