The Case of the Missing Metrics

If it seems mysterious that we sometimes talk in circles about PowerPoint and things don’t get any better, just follow the trail of the missing metrics. That’s where we’ll find a clue that will help us crack this unsolved mystery.

metrics2Any good detective would begin by asking questions, so let’s begin by asking questions about our questions. What questions do we tend to ask about PowerPoint, and what clues do the questions reveal about our assumptions? Let’s locate our own orientation by looking at 2 groups of PowerPoint questions we could ask:

Group A:
1. Do you like a blue background better, or green?
2. Should my logo go in the upper left hand corner, or right?
3. Have you seen PowerPoint’s latest animation feature?
4. Should I have a maximum of 5 rows of bullets, or 7?
5. How can I add some "pizzazz" to my presentation?

Group B:
1. Is our PowerPoint media helping us to achieve our goals, or is it standing in the way?
2. Does PowerPoint help us to retain our intellectual assets, or are we losing them?
3. How well do our audiences retain the information we present?
4. How well did this story structure work with this particular audience?
5. How do we close the gap between the metrics we wanted, and the metrics we got?

If we’re asking questions mostly from Group A, it reveals that our orientation leans toward the "looks" of PowerPoint. All of these questions can easily be answered by individual presenters, based on their own personal tastes and preferences. There’s no need to ask anyone else, because the questions exist independent of any particular corporate strategy, or audience. And since these are all "opinion" questions, we don’t tend to think of the need to measure any of them.

Group B is a different case. If we’re asking these questions, it reveals that our orientation leans toward the "results" of PowerPoint. None of these questions can easily be answered by individual presenters, because they ask how a particular activity (a PowerPoint presentation) relates to a specific strategy, and audience. In order to answer them, we would have no choice but to find a way to identify a basic set of metrics we could start to apply to our PowerPoint communications.

The differences between the two groups of questions reveal why PowerPoint does not seem to be moving beyond its current state of evolution — because we have not yet moved beyond un-measured questions of looks and opinions, toward measured questions of results and data.

Many corporations invest massive amounts of money and mindshare into the microscopic measurement of the quality of their processes, products and services. And yet, PowerPoint is mysteriously exempt from the same objective lens. This PowerPoint permissiveness has a very big price, because without PowerPoint metrics, a company and its people are flying blind into a darkened landscape riddled with intellectually-dangerous bullet zones and productivity dead-ends.

What would happen if we began to hold PowerPoint to the same quality standards as every other process, product or service in our organization? I have a feeling a very big mystery would be easily solved.

Tip: If you’d like to start tracking down clues about your PowerPoint results rather than PowerPoint opinions, think about how you could develop a set meaningful metrics that would help you answer the questions in Group B, above. Whatever metrics you choose, you’ll only be able to start solving your own PowerPoint puzzles if you’re following the right clues, and asking the right questions.

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6 Responses to “The Case of the Missing Metrics”

  1. Effern says:

    Fantastic post. I suspect that PPT users fall into “Group A” more often that not because indeed, doing so means never having to ask for help. You can sit in a vacuum and make blue backgrounds with white text and a persistent logo watermark, and not worry about the content, and whether or not it is actually relevant and effective.

    I also suspect PPT gets a pass from typical corporate scrutiny because it may be ingrained into a “we’ve always done it that way” approach to the business. As someone who isn’t wildly creative with my own presentations (I expect this to change starting right now, having found your site), I wonder if people let bad PPT “slide” because frankly, they don’t know what else to expect.

  2. Jim Argeropoulos says:

    Excellent post!

    Thanks! I rarely use Power Point for my job, but you have made me try and create a set of Group A and Group B questions for my field.

    Thanks for helping me take a step back.

  3. Trina says:

    I’m blown away by the powerful simplicity and refreshingly unique perspective you bring to the discussion on PowerPoint which begs the question, “why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?” I’m glad I found your work and thoroughly enjoy your nuggets of wisdom you share in this blog each day.

  4. Cliff says:

    Thanks for the comments. To Effern’s point, if we create PowerPoint alone, we will make our audience feel alone. We can start to change that by simply projecting our rough drafts on the wall in Slide Sorter view and asking our team for their comments. Then we would collectively see that we really do need a new approach, and work together to create it. In the process we’ll bring out the collective smarts of our team, and create a new sense of team ownership. Much more meaningful, and fun, than sitting alone.

  5. shawn's blog says:

    The Presentation Dashboard

  6. John Davies says:

    Very good points; have you read information design guru Edward Tufte’s polemic against Powerpoint and other tools which he says, ‘weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis’? Well worth a look:

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