Nancy Reunzel over at PeachPit sent me a sneak peek of Marty’s Neumeier’s new book The Designful Company. The book isn’t for design firms but is for any company that needs to solve complex business problems. I loved his other two books Brand Gap and Zag, so I knew I’d love this one. He writes and designs each of his books so you can read and apply them quickly (most often on an airplane).
Marty states that a culture of innovation builds momentum with very small inputs called “levers.” He names a total of 16, and number 8 is about our beloved PowerPoint. Below is an excerpt:
Lever 8: Ban PowerPoint
“Death by PowerPoint” is more than a wry phrase in most companies today. It’s a full-blown epidemic. Tragically, the victims are company values such as collaboration, innovation, passion, vision and clarity. Microsoft’s presentation program is so ubiquitous that the word PowerPoint has become synonymous with copy-heavy slides, as in: “Can I drop a stack of PowerPoints on you?”
If you truly want buy-in, give PowerPoint a rest. Substitute more engaging techniques such as stories, demonstrations, drawings, prototypes, and brainstorming exercises. Admittedly, these may require skills that many executives have yet to perfect, but they’re well worth mastering in the interest of a designful company.
Remember Richard Feynman’s historic demonstration of how the rubber O-rings failed in the Challenger disaster?
He riveted the audience’s attention using a single O-ring, an ordinary clamp, and a glass of ice water. Of course, he could have picked his way through a deck of PowerPoint slides, reading bullet point after bullet point about safety factors, failure rates, resiliency ratios, and launch parameters, but somehow it wouldn’t have created the same drama as simply unclamping the frozen O-ring to show that it was brittle.
This is not to say that slide presentations CAN’T be exciting. PowerPoints don’t kill meetings, people do. There’s very little about the software itself that dictates bad presentations. But there’s very little that encourages GOOD presentations. The solution is to use presentation software in ways for which it was never intended: to communicate clearly, emotionally, and dramatically. Instead of using PowerPoint for convenience, use it the way Richard Feynman used his class of ice water—to wake people up.
First, however, you’ll have to renew your creative license. I’ll quickly share three design rules we use at Neutron to turn slide shows into beacons of clarity.
Edit to the bone
Most slide presentations collapse under the weight of words. A good rule is ten per slide. This may seem strict, but limiting the number of words is the best way to make sure the ones you use will be read and understood. Ten words is about the maximum number that can fit on one line and still be read from the back row. If you need to use bullet points to make your case, create a “build”—adding one line of type at a time to keep your audience focused.
Even after editing, a steady diet of words is hard on the taste buds. Give your audience an occasional palate cleanser with illustrations, charts, diagrams, or photos. Whenever Lerner and Lowe felt that the dialogue in their musicals couldn’t fully support the emotion of the story line, they inserted a song. Likewise, whenever you feel the text in your presentation can’t fully support your key points, insert a picture.
Keep it moving
It’s better to break slides into bite-sized ideas—usually one idea per slide—than to squeeze everything on one slide. Slides are free, so use them freely. It’s preferable to see a hundred slides that move at a fast clip than be forced to stare at a single slide for more than a minute.
If a business is really a decision factory, then the presentations that inform those decisions determine their quality. Decision-making is subject to the same law that governs software programming: garbage in, garbage out.
Strategy, Technology, Visual Thinking
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