Thursday Dec 02, 2004

P_Have_You_Noticed_How

Have you noticed how slideware has become the communication medium of choice in the corporate world? Edward Tufte has written about aspects of this in his essay, The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, which I recommend.

I'm starting to wonder if the problem goes beyond style to a deeper issue. The fact is that these slide presentations become the enduring, descriptive artifact in many cases. You ask someone for detail on a project...and they send you deck of slides. You ask them what happened at a meeting...and they send you a deck of slides.

The problem with this is clear. The slides represent the framework or scaffolding on which more complete thoughts are draped during the presentation of those slides. It's the combination of the slides with those verbally conveyed thoughts, along with the ability to have questions answered by a knowledgeable speaker, that conveys information.

When the slides are passed along without this additional context, the same information is NOT conveyed. We shouldn't fool ourselves that it is. Think about the contortions you go through when you create a set of slides--the phrasing, the trimming to fit the format, etc. It takes a guide, a speaker, to interpret and re-expand the bullet points to make them understandable again. You may think you are understanding what you are reading (viewing?), but, trust me, you are missing something. Maybe that something is minor and maybe it isn't.

I worry that slideware-as-communication works to increase the siloing in organizations, especially large organizations in which far-flung pieces must work in sync to deliver maximum value to customers. I contend that the majority of slide presentations used within a corporation are used to inform a relatively local piece of the corporation--often one's management chain. In those cases, the presentations are delivered in a meeting by a knowledgeable presenter. However, the further one is organizationally from the place of origin of the slide deck, the more likely you are to receive only the slide deck without the benefit of additional context.

Speaker notes or other accompanying prose would help. Consider making the extra time investment if you think the slides will propagate and if it is important that people understand what you are saying.

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Josh Simons

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