For a simple little software program, PowerPoint has been blamed for quite a long list of corporate problems. But many critics can’t see the forest for the bullet point trees, according to the late Rich Gold, who said that PowerPoint is actually responsible for a massive transformation in corporate culture — and it’s a change that could be read as a collective improvement:
"To the surprise of many who are not in a corporation, the social ambiance inside the corporation is not cold and isolating. Corporations are friendly, cliquey, and very gossipy. PowerPoint is the perfect group reading theater for such an organization.
"There’s an interesting distinction to be made between cultures that read primarily from private documents and cultures that read primarily from walls. PowerPoint is wall reading: it is group reading, synchronous reading, semi-public reading. The corporate shift from memos to walls is very significant, because it reflects, prefigures, or perhaps constructs a society of community over individuality. This tugs both ways on our national and class value systems.
"If the isolated memo reader used to be alone, gray, and disconnected, he or she was also unique, self-motivating and self-determined. In a sweaty, hormone-steeped conference room like this one, all eyes are on the PowerPoint presenter with his or her slides dissolving from one to the next. The emphasis is on group, on consensus, team collaboration, compromise, unity.
"PowerPoint has transformed the modern corporation from an individual document reading environment to one of group synchronous wall reading. In so doing, it has transformed the social forces that bind the corporation and give it direction and unity. PowerPoint has also brought with it a sense of aesthetic art and performance, a theatrical quality new to corporate communications."
If what Rich says is true, we have been undergoing a communications revolution we can’t yet see, even though it is literally right in front of our eyes. But it could be the case that it’s in fact the visuals that are distracting us from the social transformation that is happening among those of us in the room.
If Rich were alive today, I’m sure we could have a very interesting conversation about whether most PowerPoint today opens up dialogue and relationship, or shuts them down. But I have no doubt that everything that Rich says is in fact PowerPoint’s potential. And if we can agree with that, how can we continue to innovate on this new social platform?
Tip: Design your slides for group reading, not private reading. One common complaint when someone sees a typical PowerPoint is, "I can read your bullet points myself, so why do I need to be here? Just give me the slides and we don’t need to waste each others’ time." That’s a symptom that you’re applying a private reading model, designed for people to read at their own leisure. It’s the wrong model for group reading, because if people can read it in private, they really don’t need to be with you. What do you get out of a group that you don’t get in private? The opportunity to communicate and experience meaning together. A slide designed for group reading actually needs less information, so the audience is reliant on you to explain it, ask for your opinion, and prompt a discussion. If you want to challenge yourself to address both private and group reading in one pass, approach your PowerPoint from the Notes Page view, viewing the top Slide area as the group reading area, and the Slide plus Notes below as the private reading view.
A bonus tip is to tap into the power of group writing, as you prepare your slides for group reading. Start with a completely blank presentation and draft only your headlines for each slide. Before you consider any visuals, project your draft headlines on a screen and read them out loud to your team. Ask them for their opinions and suggestions for improvement. Then show your Slide Sorter view and walk through your story structure. Does it make sense to the team? As you develop your skills at facilitating group writing, what happens along the way is that you improve your speaking skills, increase your confidence in the topic, and develop consensus and buy-in among your team members, without a single bullet point being fired!