Power Counter-Point

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Who loves Power Point?  Let’s see a show of hands….What?  No hands?big pp

Like just about anyone in government, Lord knows I’ve seen my share of Power Point presentations.  I remember the Granddaddy of them all from my first year as the Navy’s money guy.  It was time for the requirements folks to brief the Chief of Naval Operations on their budget proposal.  I should have suspected something when the calendar was blocked for three days, but what the heck?  I was a new guy and thought this was normal. We sat down in the PEC ( I can’t remember what that stood for, but it was the big CNO conference room where we discussed such matters) and girded our loins for the fireworks.  Now those of you who have ever attended a meeting in the Pentagon where money is being discussed know that there is literally no conference room in the Pentagon big enough to accommodate all of the Importants, the not-so-Importants, the strap-hangars and even one or two people who actually know what’s going on.  The 20 person conference table had 40 people around it.  The walls were thick with one and two stars and their civilian counterparts sitting in hard, folding chairs taken from the WWII surplus locker.  The EA’s, aides and Navy Hospital Corpsmen (in case someone had a heart attack after seeing the numbers) were standing wherever there was room.  Of course, being the junior Three Star, I had the honor of sitting right next to the projector….hot air blowing in my face and the fan so loud I could not hear what was being said (I always suspected they put me there to break me down so that I would agree to anything just to get out of the room!).  Nonetheless, I felt pretty good.  After all, I was BIG!  I had the $130 Billion checkbook……and I was sitting at the table!!!DoD Chart=

Then the first slide went up.  There was a collective groan when all eyes focused on the very small, 8-point numbers at the bottom right of the first slide:” 1 of 1329.” I remember the N4 leaning over to me and whispering YGTBSM!  “Maybe we’ll just zip right through them,” I naively said.  ” After all, if we look at each slide for just 10 seconds it will only take three hours and forty-seven minutes.”  Around 11 AM, I realized just how wrong I was as I heard the presenter say, “Next Slide” and my eyes were drawn to the lower right side of the slide—“6 of 1329.”  I did a quick calculation (after all, I used to be King of Ops Analysis for the Navy) and realized that at this pace it would take roughly a month to get through all the slides (not counting breaks).  What were they thinking?  How did they possible hope to get through all those slides? By the way, there were over 4000 back-up slides, just in case one of the 1329 didn’t cover all the bases.

That’s why over the years I’ve relied less and less on Power Point and more and more on one, well-designed visual aid whenever I have an important presentation to make (Don’t pay any attention to those PP presentations on my web site.  They don’t really exist). I am one of the original Power Point Rangers.  I remember when the presentation software suite of choice was Harvard Graphics (Whatever happened to HG?). As a newly-minted action officer on the Joint Staff I was sent to a one week course on the new software in use on the Joint Staff….Power Point.  It was certainly a step up from HG, but like all IT improvements, the Bosses expected miracles and demanded more and more sophistication.  Back then, in order to make a PP slide you had to first make it on the “Wang Computer”, then print it out on the ONE color printer in the Joint Staff on special, clear acetate sheets.  They were forever sticking to the hot parts of the printer and in general a pain to work with.  Once you got all that done, you still needed to tape the sheet to a cardboard holder that you could slap on the overhead projector.  My office was just down the passageway from the Tank (where the Joint Chiefs met) and our boss was always changing the slides at the last minute.  So I can remember a “bucket brigade” of PP slides moving from the office to the backdoor of the Tank just as the Boss was saying “Next Slide.”  No wonder I hate Power Point.

Of course, nowadays it’s a piece of cake.. Hook up the laptop and off you go!  Except there are always the inevitable “What button do I press?”, “Which way do I point this thing?”, “Can someone find my slides?” questions that the briefers always wind up asking.  (this is where your audience checks out and begins to check e-mail, write the grocery list, and go to the bathroom) So I’m not sure we are that much better of now than back in the day!  I guess my point is why detract from your presentation with slides and all the hiccups that come with them?  Pick one good  visual aid and go with it.  Give people copies of slides (best done after your brief) but don’t rely on them.

But, sadly, “we will always have Power Point “(apologies to Bogart), so I thought I would put out a few “Points about Power Point” (Damn, I’m clever!)

  • Keep them simple.  Pictures and graphs are best.  Use few words.  Remember people will be reading the slides and not listening to you if there are words on the them.
  • Make sure the words are spelled correctly.  Most Admirals and Generals spend more time checking the spelling on slides than either reading what the words say or listening to you. One misspelling and you are labeled an Idiot For Life and all future slides are null and void!
  • Have a time budget for your slides.  It’s hard to spend less than 5 minutes on a slide.  If you have to spend less that that, then you probably don’t need it.
  • DON”T READ THE SLIDES!! Guess what?  Everyone in the room can read.
  • Speaking of reading, make sure the material on the slide is large enough that it can be seen in the back.  I hate it when someone flashes up a slide with a 50 element spreadsheet and says, ” You probably can’t see this, but……..”  Why waste my time with something I can’t see?
  • Don’t read the slides!! (Did I already say that?  It’s worth repeating…..Don’t read the slides)
  • Don’t use Power Point.  I have found that speaking from a placemat-sized piece of card stock is far more effective that using slides.  Put the things you want your target to know on the placemat.  Force them to look at you and to listen to you by having nothing else for them to do.  If you need Power Point slides to be effective, look for another line of work.

OK.  Hope this helps.  Remember the source… A professional and seasoned Power Point Ranger, and someone who had suffered though more bad PP briefs than Carter has pills.

Oh Yeah, one final point: Don’t Read The Slides!

 

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