People, Paper, Projector

When senior television network executives pitch their new season lineup to their major advertisers, you would expect they would at least use a video clip or two. But when I saw recently how they’ve introduced PowerPoint to their pitches to create an interesting hybrid media mix, it sparked a few ideas on how we can all stretch our strategic communications.

Five network vice presidents, each the head of a different division, were the featured lineup at the pitch. The first VP introduced herself as the head of a division, said a few words, then introduced a 2-minute video clip of the shows her division produces. After the clip ended, she talked through a series of very visual PowerPoint slides with illustrations of the characters in each of the shows and a few words about the demographic segment each show could reach for the advertisers. She had at hand a stack of printed and bound copies of the detailed demographic analysis which she could refer to if needed. After her 10-minute module, she handed over the remote to the next VP, who followed the same script structure, until all five had introduced their shows. A single strong visual and verbal theme unified the entire presentation, which flowed seamlessly through the video, PowerPoint slides, printed materials, and the passionate language and delivery of each of the presenters. From a performance perspective anyway, the only word that came to my mind was “Bravo!”

Most of us don’t have the resources or time to create presentations of such high production value, but when anyone thinks outside the presentation box, it’s worth a look and listen.

It’s interesting that the network execs were selling television time, because television is essentially a passive medium, where we sit and receive the images and stories from the screen, with little to no interaction with the TV, let alone with one another. And yet, the sellers of television produced a much more physical and interactive form of media where it really counted — at a mission-critical presentation that could make the difference between financial success or failure. At this most strategic juncture — which, by the way, is where PowerPoint usually sits — the form of media they chose was a hybrid that in its totality was much more engaging than any of its separate parts.

One way to analyze this strategic presentation environment is in terms of the 3 primary message delivery media they used, each to different effect — people, paper and projector:

1. People. Yes, people are in fact media, because we each contain ideas and use our voice, gestures, and body language to communicate them. It is the most fundamental of media, because it is where fundamental communication happens, or doesn’t. And it is the starting point from which we extend our other media technologies, and to where we return if the technologies malfunction. In a presentation environment, these primary media include you, the person, and your audience, the people. As in the case of this presentation, people are the place where we make visceral connections, and where we transform abstract ideas into passionate beliefs.

2. Paper. The printed copies of the demographic analysis were not analyzed in detail during such a brief, high-level executive meeting, but they anchored the presentation in credibility, and the numbers would most certainly be analyzed in more thorough detail in separate sessions. peoplePowerPoint sometimes makes us forget that paper should play a primary role in every presentation, and since we don’t think paper is an option any longer, we squeeze what belongs on paper onto a PowerPoint slide. Paper, not a screen, is the place to make a quantitative connection, and it is, and has always been, the best place to put detailed data.

3. Projector. In this presentation, two types of projected media worked in different ways. The brief video clip quickly engaged and focused attention about the topic at hand. Then PowerPoint broke the rapid flow of moving images, and opened up mental space for thinking and social space for dialogue. PowerPoint can set the tone and visual agenda, but it likewise is best used for highlights and themes, not complex detail. And a projector often makes the most powerful statement of all when you simply shut it off.

As the network executives showed, we live in an interesting time when we can mix and match media to find meaning in an in-person environment. Every mix and match will be different according to the meaning you want to present, but the blockbuster idea here is that we have the ability to try.

Tip: Sketch out three circles on a piece of paper or a PowerPoint slide. Write the names of each of the three media platforms — people, paper and projector. What is the ratio of communication that travels across each medium in your presentation environment? Do you have a good balance? If your projector is overloaded with data, shift it to paper. If your paper is lacking an emotional dimension, work on visualizing themes with a projector. And are you, the person, controlling and managing your media in a way that opens up understanding from your audience? If not, mix up your media and premiere a new media lineup.

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