Unpolished PowerPoint

When the stakes for your presentation are so high that your business depends on it, wouldn’t you want your presentation to be as polished as possible? We would all naturally think so, but sometimes what we see isn’t what we get.

A couple of savvy readers brought up the point that there are ways you can polish up the presentation dashboard approach so you never have to leave the Slide Show view. You could use PowerPoint’s built-in features to internally hyperlink any slide to another one, or you could create a navigation bar that takes you directly to specific slides. These are all great ideas, and there are even more ways to buff up your PowerPoint so it shines brilliantly.

polishBut sometimes we’re so busy polishing the surfaces of our slides, we don’t ask if the polish is getting us the type of attention we really want.

Henry Boettinger tells a story in Moving Mountains about a group of experts that had “honed and refined their visuals to close to perfection by any standards,” using state-of-the art media and production techniques. The group was asked to present their ideas to the top executives in the company, and during a rehearsal with one of the executives,

“They did a superb job. Every detail and lesson they had learned was brought to bear. Timing was exquisite….When they finished, they expected such enthusiastic compliments as they got when they presented their story to their previous audiences. Instead the (executive) sat silently, fingertips together, shaking his head. The presentors were baffled and upset. Everyone of them knew they could not possibly do better. After enduring the silence as long as he could, my friend said to the executive: ‘What do you think?’ (He replied,) ‘It’s no good. Your presentation is simply too slick.'”

The presenters were pretty unhappy to hear this because they had invested so much time into polishing their presentation. The executive confirmed that in fact, all of their material was correct and “first-class”, but the problem was that the presentation was over-polished, as he explained:

“‘My colleagues will find the razzle-dazzle offensive and will become uncomfortable. They will feel that they have no place at all to apply their judgment. I’m afraid if you show them what I saw, they will modify your proposal, and I don’t want that to happen. It’s too good.'”

The group followed the executive’s advice, and without changing their message, they down-graded the visuals, made things a little less structured, and intentionally missed a few cues when handing off to one another. The result? They “succeeded brilliantly,” according to Henry.

By presenting a less-polished version to this decision-making group, the group came off less like “professional actors”, and gave the senior team plenty of opportunity to apply their judgment, and to accept and approve the proposal. Based on his experiences, Henry formulated three “polish” principles:

1. As the need to inform an audience increases, the greater should be the degree of finish.
2. As an audience’s power to approve increases, the lower should be the degree of finish.
3. The larger the audience, the greater should be the degree of finish.

Today we live in a very polished and slick media world, and it’s natural for us to look there to take our PowerPoint cues. But if Henry’s principles still stand, it may be that most of the media we see has such a high degree of finish because it is simply there to “inform” us, and is produced for large audiences. But if the same media were used to gain our approval, it would actually look less-finished. This less-finished approach is the norm when large advertising agencies present creative concepts to executives — they commonly present a minimum of 3 draft concepts that inspire a conversation to pick and choose the best qualities of each.

If anything has changed since Henry wrote his principles in 1969, it’s not so much the media, but audiences who expect less “information” and more involvement in the decision-making process.

So before you start polishing your PowerPoint, think about your audience, and what degree of finish is appropriate to meet your goals. The more polished your PowerPoint, the less you invite interaction. The less polished, the more you invite interaction. The degree of polish will help you see what you will get.

Tip: Does your polished PowerPoint deflect you from your goals? Or can an unpolished version actually reflect the best results? Try out the same presentation to different audiences, with different degrees of polish. You’ve got a great opportunity if you’re raising money for your company, because you’re likely to give a similar presentation to different audiences. First present your polished PowerPoint. Then try the less-polished presentation dashboard approach, or another one that is not quite so refined. What degree of polish gets you the most sparkling results?

This entry was posted in Business Strategy, Communications, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Web/Tech, Weblogs. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “Unpolished PowerPoint”

  1. Graham says:

    Back to the topic of the dashboard.
    We have also used the idea of linking to create quite detailed documentation. One of the challenges of documentation is that it often needs to cover a number of audiences. In covering these various audiences it needs different sections. Those sections either need to stand-alone (so might as well be separate documents) or the audience needs to read the documents in their entirety. Using a dashboard front sheet to a presentation allows various stories to be built for the different receivers – while still making the whole available. It also focuses the author on the points that need to be made. Rather than writing across ten pages they need to think about the points they need to make in one page.
    Great content though.
    Even got the Pastor at my Church reading – and it’s made a real difference to his presentation.

  2. Show Me

    Cliff Atkinson at Beyond Bullets has a great blog. He writes about Powerpoint and using as a force for good presentations. His material is a wonderful combination of public speaking, design, and salesmanship. He has written a couple of entries…

  3. Robert Moir says:

    Love these articles. The comment on polish is a good one, one I’ve noticed before myself.

    When you are presenting to a group of bosses, the one thing you don’t want to hear is “How does he get it to do that?” during a presentation.

    At first I was pleased I was holding their attention. I had put a lot of work into the demo (of a website, not a powerpoint slide show), and positive mumbling from the floor is always welcome right?

    Afterwards I found out they didn’t hear my message because they were too busy looking at the fancy tricks. Lesson learnt… “Keep it simple, stupid” applies to the medium as well as the message.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *