Brandt On Leadership -- Missing The (Power) Point

Dec. 28, 2006
When bullet points fly, attention spans die.

So you're looking for some feedback on that PowerPoint presentation you just delivered. Well . . . I guess I can honestly say that I've never seen anything quite like it.

What's that? You want to know what I liked, specifically? Gosh, it's hard to know where to start, there's so much to . . . praise. But if you insist:

Bang-up Opening: Holy mackerel, you grabbed our attention! Putting the entire agenda for the day in your opening slide -- I mean, I'd seen the agenda on the poster outside the door, and it was in the binder, too, right there on the first page -- but it was helpful to see it again, even if it was in 9-point type. And your line-by-line reading of it, complete with times and breaks -- Wow. It not only eliminated any suspense about what you might say, it also made it easier to track just how long you were going to yammer about each topic. I haven't been that moved by the opening sequence in a pitch since the last time the Yellow Pages people telemarketed me.

Structure: While we're on the subject of your PowerPoints, where did you come up with the idea of using bullet points in the same format on every single slide? I mean, I had never seen that before. Especially compelling was the way you kept repeating certain slides, with just one new bullet point added at the end of that same slide. Equally as impressive was the sheer number of slides you used; I'm not sure I've ever seen 92 slides in a 30-minute presentation before, but you pulled it off. Be careful though -- if you run them much faster, you'll have an 8mm movie on your hands!

Humor: I must admit that I didn't really get those half-mumbled asides to yourself, but since you giggled each time, I knew that they must have been funny. I applaud your effort to get a laugh in front of a hostage audience even though you can't tell a joke in real life. And don't listen to what those guys in the back were saying; standing rigidly behind the podium with your fists clenched at your sides while you smiled at odd intervals didn't make you look dead or creepy at all.

Humility: I appreciated your candor when you told us that you really didn't know much about our industry; it's refreshing when a presenter admits that he didn't care enough to do any backgrounding on the Internet or to spend two minutes chatting with one of us before the big day. Thanks, too, for revealing that you were your company's fifth choice for this gig; that explained a lot. After all that, it took guts for you to spend five minutes going over your resume -- none of which related to the topic at hand -- but you plowed through every job you ever had anyway. Bully for you!

Oratory Skills: It was astounding to hear how comfortably you used "Er" and "Um" at the beginning of each sentence, almost like a secret code to let us know that you had still been working on the presentation late last night -- and that you didn't quite finish. I also liked how you ended every sentence with an interrogative "Right?" In your capable hands, "Right?" wasn't just a punctuation mark, it also lent the appearance that you were checking in with your audience without the bother of actually doing so. Right?

General Demeanor: I know a lot of presenters feel that it's rude to turn their backs on their audiences and then to read every line of every slide, but I thought it was nice to see how well-pressed the back of your jacket was. And yes, you may have been a little harder to hear since you had completely turned away from the microphone, but once it was clear that every word of your presentation was already in the handout, we pulled out our Blackberries and Treos anyway, to check e-mail or play Bubblet while you soldiered on. Most of us considered your time slot our most personally productive period of the entire day; in fact, after you finished, many people told me that your performance was "unforgettable."

But not in so many words.

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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