UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

25 years of PowerPoint. But What Next?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20 Aug 2009

Happy Birthday

PowerPoint was born 25 years ago, on 14 August 1984. An article on the BBC News Magazine, entitled “The problem with PowerPoint” points out that “They’re often boring” and goes on to point out the problems with PowerPoint presentations which are too wordy, make excessive use of bullet points, etc.

The Need For Good Design and Visual Impact

Slide by Alison Wildish

Nothing surprising, you may think.  And I too have been bored with such presentations and have been impressed with more visually oriented presentations, in which the design creativity is apparent.

Slide by Alison WildishIn particular I remember how impressed I was with Alison Wildish’s plenary talk at IWMW 2007 – a talk which was radical, at the time, in the summary of how a relatively new institution (Edge Hill University) was embracing Social Web services to engage with students and potential students.

The accompanying slides were also visually impressive, with each slide having its own visual identity and some of the slides challenging the assumptions that a speaker from a marketing background would invariably promote their own institution.

As someone who gives a lot of talks my slides should be more like Alison’s, I can remember thinking at the time. I should ditch the UKOLN template and make the individual slides distinctive, as Alison did. And I should reduce the amount of text on the slides, leaving it to my memory, or the accompanying speaker notes, to provide the details of what I will say in my talks.

An Alternative View

But whilst I’ll acknowledge the impact that good design and visual diversity can have on an audience I do wonder whether the points made in the BBC article start to become slightly less relevant in the environment I increasingly work in, in which ‘amplified conferences’ will be built around the speakers and their slides but the audience may not be physically present in the lecture theatre but viewing the talks on a video streaming service or accessing the slides after the event is over.

UKOLN’s recent IWMW 2009 event was one such amplified event.  And for this event we sought to treat the remote audience watching the video stream as first class participants, providing access to the plenary speaker’s slides using Slideshare, as well as using various social media services, such as Twitter to encourage discussions, etc. Liz Azyan, in a blog post entitled “Iwmw2009: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly…“, picked up on the importance of this approach:

Let’s talk a bit about some of the stuff I liked about the conference…

There were alot of things that this conference did get right in terms of using social media to fully aggregate the workshops content effectively online. Check out how #iwmw2009 came alive online and created real-time conversations and feedback …

  1. Slideshare of all presentation slides (Excellent!) – I always find myself needing to ask for these at events and often take a long time to become available. So, well done!

In a follow-up post Liz, in a report on the opening session at the event, embedded the slides from the two opening talks, thus illustrating how such slides can now be decoupled from their use in the live presentation.

I personally am finding larger numbers of people seem to access to my slides on Slideshare than are present when I give the live presentation. Looking at the statistics I notice that a the slides for a talk on “Introduction To Facebook: Opportunities and Challenges For The Institution“, which was given to a small number (less than 20) of staff at Bath University has been viewed 10,900 times.

Who, then, is my main audience? Should I seek to treat the remote audience on par with the live audience? And if I do wish to do this, will it (should it) have any relevance to the design of the slides?  Perhaps for the remote audience, there should be a greater emphasis placed on the informational content, whereas for the live audience the emphasis may be on engaging with the audience?

And does a personal visual appearance for slides possibly make it difficult for the slides to be reused? For a number of years I have provided a Creative Commons licence for my slides, and have welcomed their reuse. But if they were less neutral in the appearance and contained less content, would this detract from their potential for reuse?

Or are these just excuses for my lack of design skills!?


8 Responses to “25 years of PowerPoint. But What Next?”

  1. James Clay said

    Personally I think the solution is to stop just using slideshare and video your presentation as well and present both to an online audience.

    An example from my presentation at the MIMAS Mobile Learning event.

    I have put on that blog entry, the slides (on Slideshare) and the video that I took of my presentation. It is then possible for the viewer to view both the “clear” slides and listen/watch the video.

    One problem I had with Slideshare was linking back to this blog post so that people interested could watch the video.

    Another option is to combine the slides with the audio. Keynote on the Mac has this capability and so I could very quickly export my presentation as a video and place it on my blog. One of the advantages of this was that (unlike Slideshare) it retained the transitions and animations – though some may this is a disadvantage!

    All of this though doesn’t mention the main issue with PowerPoint, which is that it is presentation software. Too often people use is as a transmission device for large amounts of information.

    I recall a JISC person indicating that they had a lot of content on their slides as they “knew” that the presentation would be viewed remotely by people not at the event. For this audience I would use a written report rather than a PowerPoint presentation.

    A presentation is a presentation, whether that be to a live audience or an online audience. I don’t believe a single presentation can cater for both audiences.

    James Clay

  2. A brave post for a presenter to make Brian – asking for critique of your presentation style ;-)

    I’d agree with James that a single presentation can’t cater for both audiences – or at least, we could do better.

    I see live presentations as a performance, so for me, the best ones are those with a engaging presenter using striking visuals to enhance their message, rather than presenting to a script written in bullet form on the slides.

    That still holds online, but there are other things to consider as well. While it may be increasingly simple to record a live performance and publish it for reuse online, I don’t think that (often) does justice to the online audience – whether watching live or later. Sure TED (and sometimes JISC) do this well, but with a skilled AV crew.

    For me, the ideal online product is a pre-recorded AV presentation prepared with the remote audience in mind – so shorter, tighter timings, more visually-engaging (through images, videos, demos…). I think that makes for a far more reusable presentation online than one packed with onscreen text.

    I think the rules are a little different on Slideshare. For me, the best presentations on here are designed specifically for this platform and recognise it’s potential as an online learning resource. A key difference being that presentations on slideshare aren’t delivered, they’re read by users at their own pace. That’s why I’m not convinced that (audio) slidecasts work too well, as they force you back to passively watching at the pace of the presenter (which never seems fast enough online!).

    “Perhaps for the remote audience, there should be a greater emphasis placed on the informational content, whereas for the live audience the emphasis may be on engaging with the audience?”

    I think engagement is more of an issue for the remote audience, not the live one, who tend to be more tolerant (or at least more polite) about digressions and delays. Looking at stats for my online videos, the % hitting stop within 5mins is far greater than I’ve ever had walk out when giving the same presentation live!

  3. AJ Cann said

    There’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint, it’s the users who are defective. For the last few months, I’ve been working towards Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 style: after being stung by his comment “I can read faster than this bozo can talk”.
    See you at ALT-C :-)

  4. Zak Mensah said

    If we choose to put our slides on a service such as SlideShare then we are catering for the remote/post presentation audience.

    If i make the effort to put a presentation online then I don’t think its too much to ask to make reasonable adjustables to the design. For example I will be ensuring (from now lol) that I design my slides with any URLS either on the slide or in the notes as opposed to it being embedded, so that as many people as possible can visit the URL.

    In terms of the actual look, and in part the experience, design for 99% of presentations could be improved upon. Mike Ellis’s presentation that I saw live (and have looked at since) is great

    For those of us interested in “proper” design then I think this book “designing for the web” will get us going

    Like Steve, I use SlideShare for learning purposes and have seen the number of presentations designed to be read and not delivered as live presentations increase. As for video, im not that interested unless its a condensed version, i like SlideShare as I can fly through a 45min presentation in minutes and argue that i probably didnt miss anything.


  5. Ever heard of the ‘middle ground’?

    To be blunt and slightly tongue in cheek Brian… your slides are some of the worst designed slides I’ve ever seen! (Well… you did ask! :-)). The fact that your slide style hasn’t changed at all over the last 10 years or so, a time during which the general use of slides has changed dramatically, is kinda indicative of that. That said… I think people now expect it from you, so please don’t change :-) Also, I think your live presentation style overcomes the crapness of your slides – so it’s not a massive problem.

    Who knows… perhaps your kind of Powerpoint slides will actually become trendy again – everything in fashion goes round in circles I guess!

    I agree with your general point, that ‘trendy’ wordless slides don’t provide much value on Slideshare. Adding a soundtrack (slidecast) is one option but it typically forces someone to stick around for 30 minutes or so listening to the presentation, whareas being able to read the slides typically only takes a few minutes.

    My personal take is that I think there’s a middle ground which is a few words per slide, which provide a meaningful narrative when viewed in series on Slideshare *and* which guide the speaker in the live presentation.

    In the main I have given up scouring Flickr for good/funny/appropriate images to use as slides – but that’s more laziness than anything. And I was never very good at it :-(

  6. […] Brian Kelly, UKOLN, UK Web Focus […]

  7. What’s the purpose of a presentation? It’s many different things – to inform, educate, update, entertain, encourage, remind and so on. Should we actually expect one resource to assist us in all of those things? Probably not, but we do. I think the problem with Powerpoint is that it’s actually very good – in the sense that it can assist in doing all of these things. The problem comes when a speaker relies on the tool and not themselves.

    Many of my presentations use single images; I did one earlier this year that was just 16 photographs, and was used to emphasis and remind people of the points that I was making. While I made this available online it was really only of any use if you were following the presentation while it was being tweeted.

    Other presentations I will record a narration, though to be fair, I don’t do this as often as I should.

    It’s easy to rely on Powerpoint and to stop looking at other tools. Prezi is interesting to play with, as are screen capture tools; they all have a place to play. Whichever is used however will not make a bad presentation good, though it can make a good presentation better. In the final analysis (and this isn’t my idea, just something I read elsewhere which chimed with me) the audience won’t remember the facts and figures, they won’t remember what you’re trying to say, they’ll remember *how you made them feel* and that’s down to the skills and ability of the presenter to interest, encourage and engage with their audiance.

  8. […] I commented in a post on Powerpoint on UK web focus, I think engagement is the key issue for a remote audience. Looking at engagement stats for videos […]

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