The Media Equation

Substitute the word “PowerPoint” with “people”, and what do you get? During a recent conversation, Nathan Shedroff mentioned some research that showed that people expect technology to act like people:

“In The Media Equation, Cliff Nass and Byron Reeves found in their research that people treat sufficiently sophisticated devices as if they’re human. And their expectations of those devices are that they follow guidelines of human behavior. Cliff and Byron used to say that you could take any book on sociology, and do a search and replace on the word person or people, and replace it with computer or device, and it’s still all true. It would need to replicate human behavior and human values. Most of our learning and acclimatization as humans is all done with other people, so our default behavior and expectations is all based on what people would do.”

What would happen if we took some common comments about PowerPoint, and swap out the words? “That was a boring PowerPoint” would become “That was a boring person.” “That was an unclear PowerPoint” would become “That was an unclear person.” But also: “That PowerPoint opened up dialogue” would become “That person opened up dialogue.”

Are we using PowerPoint in a way that results in the same reactions we want to receive as people? Or are we somehow using it in a way that works against us, and boomerangs the unwanted qualities of “boredom” and “lack of clarity” right back at us?

What side of the media equation do you want to be on?

Tip: Everybody is doing the same thing with PowerPoint, so why not try a little experiment outside the PowerPoint box? Find a photograph that is interesting, but the meaning might be unclear. Let’s say it’s a picture of a swan. Place it on a PowerPoint slide, with no additional text or description. swan1When you project the image on the screen, ask your audience, “What does this mean to you?” Listen to their responses, and repeat them back so everyone hears them. Then, as you begin your talk, spin the image into a theme you’ll develop through the story of your presentation, for example: “Has anyone seen the extreme makeover shows on television, where the ugly duckling gets turned into a beautiful swan? Well today we’re going to talk about the extreme makeover of a business strategy. Because with some hard work, even the ugliest strategy can be transformed into beautiful results. Let’s see how….”

Although the technique of using a very simple image like this might sound simplistic at first, when viewed in contrast to the over-stylized and over-burdened PowerPoint slides we all tend to see, it actually produces a very sophisticated effect that engages your audience. If it works for you, you just might hear someone say, “That was a really interesting PowerPoint (person).”

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