If you want to see the source of the prevailing PowerPoint paradigm today, look no farther than your own corporate PowerPoint template.
If you don’t have corporate template handy, it’s pretty easy to find the PowerPoint template for many organizations — just Google the phrase "(insert company name) PowerPoint template" and you’re likely to find a publicly-available presentation that contains the template.
To examine the template, open the PowerPoint file, then choose View, Master, Slide Master, and you’ll find out exactly what kind of thinking underlies that organization’s PowerPoint approach.
At the top right of the Slide Master is the statement, "IBM logo must not be moved…" Well here’s a question for the keeper of the template: What if a salesperson is selling a $10 million piece of technology and the presenter wants to remove the logo to make the presentation "All About the Audience" instead of all about themselves? Sorry, because the IBM logo must not be moved. What if the best approach to sell the technology is to use a blank screen with only an evocative image? Doesn’t look like that’s possible.
Another guideline is "Background should not be modified…" Well what if a corporate trainer is explaining a critical engineering concept and decides it’s important to have visual variety to prevent boredom and reduce the risk that message would not be understood? Sorry, because the background should not be modifed.
Yet another guideline is that the body text should be 18pt in size – a sure sign that this was set by someone who does not actually use PowerPoint in large meeting rooms because no one in the back of the room would be able to read a font size that small. What can a presenter in this company do? Looks to me like the options are limited.
It turns out that much of our collective thinking about PowerPoint is based on a branding misunderstanding, a lack of awareness of the research related to multimedia presentations, and a general idea that our work in corporate communications is done when we’ve designed a template and have thrown it over the fence for people to use.
This line of thinking guarantees that everyone in that organization will be put into a literal box and constrained from doing things that help them get their job done. As much as people might blame Microsoft for enforcing a bullet-point culture, it is really organizations that enforce it through their templates and lack of an organizational strategy for their PowerPoint-based communications. The solution here is to throw out the template approach altogether and adopt a better methodology that aligns with both research and the organization’s communications strategy.
The PowerPoint situation is changing at organizations like HP, GE and even Wharton business school, all of whom are taking a more enlightened look at the potential of this powerful tool sitting at all of our desktops. As organizations like these begin presenting the way to a clearer and more flexible future, we can all look forward to the day when organizations replace "LOGO MUST NOT BE MOVED" with "AUDIENCE MUST BE MOVED" instead.
Tip: Take a look at your own corporate PowerPoint template. Does it constrain your communication possibilities, or open them up? Share your thoughts by adding your comments below.