Anthony’s Thinklab

People often say that PowerPoint shuts down thinking, but Anthony Honeyfield has proven how easy it is to use PowerPoint to open it up.

Anthony is an industrial designer in Sydney, Australia, who wrote me to say he had tried out some Beyond Bullets ideas that he was glad to share with other readers:

“Inspired by your creative use of PowerPoint I started a 1-hour monthly ‘professional development’ workshop at my company, where designers can present areas of their expertise for the benefit of the whole team. This morning was the first session, and I kicked it off with a presentation on ‘finite element analysis’, which is a way of analysing part designs on a computer before prototyping. The presentation rests entirely on tips and tricks I learned from your site, and represents a giant leap for me from the typical 7 bullet points. (Attached are) the results of the feedback I got from using your 1-minute feedback template. Fortunately the results are positive, and the two main ideas were well retained.”

Before I even opened Anthony’s PowerPoint file, I already recognized 3 important results he had already accomplished outside of any visual techniques he may have used on his slides:

1. Systematic innovation. Anthony had created a new social space that did not exist before, where his team gathers on a regular basis to learn from one another. Setting up a creative space like this, outside of the day-to-day flow of work, is strategically valuable for any group of people to connect, reflect, and realign their actions. His monthly meeting now systematizes an opportunity for innovation for his organization.

2. Dialogue. By moving well beyond “the typical 7 bullet points” approach, Anthony explored new ways to use PowerPoint to guide the meeting agenda, stimulate thinking, and engage dialogue. He found a way to use PowerPoint to help create a new media “thinklab”, as he calls it, where people have the freedom to imagine new solutions to very real business problems.

3. Metrics. Anthony measured both his goals and the results of the meeting, so he would have a concrete way to know how he did, and a specific pathway toward improvement. If every organization required every meeting organizer to measure the intended results of every meeting, and compared them with the actual results as rated by the audience, we would at least know where we stand when it comes to productivity, and have a baseline from where we can begin to build improvement.

When I did open Anthony’s PowerPoint, his title slide gave a flavor of what’s possible when strategy and visual innovation start to mingle in a PowerPoint laboratory.

bottleneckHere Anthony composed a simple and elegant slide from only 4 elements: a black back- ground; a white box sitting over the back- ground that creates the illusion of a cinematic screen; a photograph of a bottle Anthony found here; and a text box with the title of the presentation. Although the slide looks simple, it is actually very sophisticated in its impact.

It’s always been important to set the stage for a presentation with a strong opening, and this slide shows how PowerPoint can help you make it even stronger. Compare it to every other PowerPoint title slide you’ve seen, which usually includes a boring background, a boring title, and no images except maybe a boring logo. Boredom is never a good place to begin, because that’s likely where you and your audience will end.

By contrast, this slide grabs attention, builds intrigue, and holds you in suspense until the presenter tells you what it means. The topic — finite element analysis — can be technical and dry, but Anthony manages to squeeze juicy new meaning from it here, and makes even a non-technical person like me want to find out what he’s going to say next.

Anthony adds a deeper layer of power to his title slide by immediately presenting his problem-statement to his audience. A “bottleneck” in business implies that there’s some sort of problem that’s blocking the smooth flow of a process. His audience already knows about “prototyping” since they build mockups of products every day as part of their work, but by connecting it to “bottleneck”, Anthony presents an intriguing problem that his audience would be interested in solving — in their minds they might be saying “Tell us Anthony, how can we solve the problem of bottlenecks in our prototyping process?” By selecting an image of a real bottle to place on his title slide, Anthony also shows that he has a clever sense of humor, setting the stage for a creative and innovative exploration of ideas.

Hollywood filmmakers invest a great deal of money in the introductory title sequence of their films, because it sets the stage, tone, and level of interest in the experience. You can create the same effects in your presentations if you open up your own creative bottlenecks in PowerPoint, like Anthony did here, and build your own thinklabs of systematic innovation, dialogue and measurable results.

Tip: Think about creating an thinklab in your organization, like Anthony did. Focus on a process that you would continually like to improve, and set up a regular time to meet and discuss it. Innovate the way you use PowerPoint, like Anthony did with his simple title slide above. If your title slide, and your thinklab, can bring together a sense of intrigue, humor and direction, you will be setting the stage for ongoing social innovation and practical results.

This entry was posted in Business Strategy, Communications, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Web/Tech, Weblogs. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Anthony’s Thinklab”

  1. chris says:

    Do we get to see the whole presentation or the feedback?

  2. Mark says:

    Hi Cliff,
    posting the whole presentation on the blog would be nice as it lets the readers see how the principles u espouse are being put into actual practice.

  3. Cliff says:

    Hi Chris and Mark,
    I’ve checked with Anthony – some of his slides are proprietary, but he said he would be OK if I posted a few more that were cleared, along with more comments. I’ll include them in a “Thinklab Pt. 2” posting coming up.

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