If you can transform ideas into pictures, you can transform media into meaning.
One of the really interesting things about PowerPoint is that it has transformed our concept of the “visual aid”. In the days of overhead projectors, you could write something on a transparency, talk about it, then turn off the projector when you were done. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same thing with your PowerPoint — when you have a slide you want to show, you simply turn the projector on, and when you’re done, turn it off. No big deal. You’re only a slave to PowerPoint if you allow yourself to be.
But where the PowerPoint picture gets really interesting is if you look at it in the context of the larger media landscape that is transforming before our eyes. Every surface in our environment is increasingly covered by visuals, from everyday products to buildings to our own bodies. It’s probably no accident that likewise, a PowerPoint is “always on”, blending together the talk and visual aid into a new hybrid media mix. Whether or not what has happened is a good thing is certainly an interesting debate, but let’s assume for a minute that the visual revolution around us can also help us communicate more effectively with PowerPoint.
Clearly we won’t get anywhere with our “PowerPoint as usual” approach, because it’s boring and frozen in its evolution. So what if we tried out a little “PowerPoint as unusual” and thaw out our thinking?
To do that, we would need to go back to the past, and look at how visuals can be used to set the stage, and update those ideas with a new media perspective. For example, set designers know how visual cues can set the tone of a theater scene, and Hollywood has refined the art to a science. Taking a cue from them, let’s try our hand at using images to set the changing backdrop for the themes of a talk.
Let’s say you want to engage an audience about the need to embrace change in your organization. Your goal is to spark interest, dialogue, and new thinking — pretty elemental stuff. So you go to Corbis BizPresenter, like I did, and find four images that each represent the four elements of fire, water, earth and air. When you download the images, you simply Insert each image onto each slide — the whole process may take a few minutes.
Then, your script might read something like this:
Slide 1 fades in (fire): “Has anyone here experienced the flames of uncontrollable change? (Raise your own hand here, to give permission for your audience to raise their hands.) What are some examples? (Listen, and repeat back responses.) We all face the relentless energy of changing circumstances, and part of our challenge is to find a way to transform this destructive power into energy that will fuel innovation.”
Slide 2 fades in (water): “Of course, the fires of change can always be tamed with the cool waters of clear thinking. When we are centered on the core elements of our strategy, we can learn to continually adjust our approach and go with a more adaptable flow.”
Slide 3 fades in (earth): “When we have a grounded ourselves in a solid approach, we can see every threat as an opportunity to plant new ideas, and to give them new life as they support and grow our strategy in a competitive environment.”
Slide 4 fades in (air): “When we get to that place where we stop seeing change as a threat, we can see new perspectives that give us the space to adapt. Here are 3 practical things you can do to make this process such a part of your daily life, that it becomes as easy as breathing in and out…”
What do you think — silly or strategic? Try it out, and let your own experience, and your audience, be the judge.
Tip: Go to Corbis, or to Microsoft’s free clip art and media gallery, or to your own company’s image libraries, and find 4 images that relate to your introduction. Set up a problem-statement for your audience, and try out the technique above. Notice how you relate the changing images, or don’t. Try a run-through where you don’t even refer to the images directly — you just allow them to change behind you as you continue with your talk. Compare and contrast this approach with your standard bullet point approach. Ask your audience what they thought. If anything you tried actually burns away old thinking, waters your imagination, plants the seeds of innovation, or gives your mind the room to breathe, by all means consider adopting some new media elements to your PowerPoint portfolio.