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October 4, 2001

Power! Point?

Make it work for you!

By Ian Shoales

Over the years, it's been my pleasure to be part of the entertainment at various corporate functions. If there's one thing I've learned from the experience - the one takeaway that had traction, you might say - it's this: Without Microsoft PowerPoint, the global economy would surely fall apart.

I'm old enough to remember when presentations were accompanied by overhead projectors, on which the presenter scribbled charts with a greasy pen. Sometimes these presentations were reinforced by mimeographed handouts - typed documents in fuzzy blue ink that were difficult to read, but gave off a distinctive and pleasant aroma. Audiences were bored. Corporations languished.

But today? Bullet points! Swiftly moving slide shows! Animation! Movies! Clip art! Large fonts! Whatever you're talking about, with PowerPoint, your audience sits enthralled.

How dare you insult PowerPoint!

Imagine my surprise last spring when I read an article by Ian Parker in The New Yorker that tried to make the case that PowerPoint may, in fact, be blandly evil ("Absolute PowerPoint," May 28, 2001).

Parker's point? He says PowerPoint is a "social instrument, turning middle managers into bullet-point dandies." Like that's a bad thing? He says PowerPoint "has a private, interior influence. It edits ideas.... It helps you make a case, but also makes its own case about how to organize information ..., how to look at the world."

Well, I can't disagree entirely. For instance, one of PowerPoint's features is called "AutoContent Wizard," which gives the user various templates (such as "Managing Organizational Change") with preloaded slides and bullet points. When a slide show does all the thinking for you, do you even need to show up?

To combat mediocrity, people need to start abusing PowerPoint. By now, people have certain expectations of what you do with this software. Why not mess with their expectations?

Slide One: My Life

I'm working on a PowerPoint demo, for instance, called "My Life, So Far." It starts with my childhood: slides of me as a baby, pictures of Audie Murphy (whom I hero-worshipped as a boy) and the red-headed girl who sat behind me in fifth grade, and so on.

Bullet points include:

  • Access painful memories of first trip to the dentist. Assess.
  • Discuss your feelings on the time the pants Mom bought from the mail-order catalog fell apart during first-period math class.
  • If I'm so poor, why ain't I dumb?
  • Ginger Culpepper. Why so mean, baby?

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Then I move on to show mysterious pie graphs detailing the inner turmoil of the adolescent boy, a funny clip art of a car moving slowly west, and candid shots of me grimacing at various temp jobs.

I've detailed my career on a checkerboard that, if looked at too closely, can cause hallucinations. I've also shown a comparison of my bank balance from last week to my account when I was 21. Remarkably similar!

I close with a 3D graphic, detailing all my adult relationships, showing (a) actual duration of relationship, (b) duration of relationship based on first-date impressions, and (c) theoretical duration of relationship based upon (c1) hindsight, hers, (c2) hindsight, his, (c3) whether certain things had remained unsaid, hers, and (c4) whether certain things had remained unsaid, his.

You get the idea. So give me a call, corporate America. This presentation may not increase sales, but it will certainly make your employees' jaws drop. That's a personal guarantee! I'll have one eye on the bottom line and the other on the exit. And that's a takeaway with traction.

Ian Shoales lives in San Francisco, where he thinks outside the box when he can find it.

Copyright © 2003 CMP Media LLC
a United Business Media Company
No reproduction without permission

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