A Secret Weapon for PowerPoint Presentations
There have been 701 comments in response to the April 27th New York Times
article by Elisabeth Bumiller about the military's use of PowerPoint. There's a note at the bottom of the article from the New York Times
saying, "Comments are no longer being accepted." Enough!
The article "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint" hit a nerve for every victim of bad PowerPoint presentations. Many of the comments rail about the misuse of slide presentations as a substitute for other types of documents. In our business writing consulting company, we've seen everything. There are some companies that write presentations for almost every type of communication except e-mail. We agree-this is not smart.
Thinking back to 1987, when Microsoft created PowerPoint, makes me want to ask Bill Gates if he ever imagined that it would be so misused, loathed, and derided. But fortunately, it's only the medium and not the message. We humans are responsible for the quality of its content. The most interesting comment in the article was the following:
"‘[PowerPoint is] dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,' General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. ‘Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.'"
Perhaps General McMaster is saying that the structure and design of a presentation can misrepresent how much strategic understanding is behind the presentation.
What can you do to ensure that you never end up in this position? Write an executive summary for every presentation! This might be a prose handout or up to two slides at the end of your presentation, but it should stand alone as a document. If you have trouble writing an executive summary from your deck, then you may have missed some key points.
Consider the following typical sections of an executive summary:
- a concise statement of the purpose or challenge
- recommendations and action requests
- benefits and conclusions
- next steps
- a brief overview of the background or context needed to understand conclusions.
If you take the time to write this final preview or overview for your busy readers, you will never leave them thinking, "so what?"
This practice is a lifesaver if you find yourself at a sales meeting, expecting to have one hour to deliver your presentation and you are told that you only have TEN minutes. Haul out your secret weapon: an executive summary.
In another post, I'll get into more detail on how to write an executive summary.Better Communications empowers companies to make written communications a competitive asset–clear writing for a complex world! Check out our monthly online and in-person Open Seminars.