Rethinking Slides: The Purpose of PowerPoint

Alex does a great job of identifying how most presenters use software like PowerPoint incorrectly. Consider how you should change your presentation aids to make them more graphic and more memorable.

Creating Communication

Last night, my professor gave our class directions for next week’s group presentations on a specific communication theory.  He said he wanted us to focus on clarity of ideas as opposed to presentation “glitz,” and he asked that we keep things simple and avoid a whirling, swirling Prezi.  When my group came together to discuss our theory and how we might present it to our classmates, I asked, “Can we NOT use a PowerPoint?”  By the reaction I got, you would have thought I asked my group members to put their hands into a wood chipper.

Undeterred by a little pushback, I suggested we avoid going the death-by-PowerPoint route and stick to a handout instead.  It took me getting approval from the professor before the group agreed.  I thought to myself… Since when did “PowerPoint” become synonymous with “presentation?”  And since when did suggesting we ditch the slideshow software become an outlandish…

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Emergency Managers as Curators

The training and development industry, championed by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), suggested a couple of years ago that trainer are curators of information. This suggestion caught like wildfire in the training and development community. The ASTD compares a trainer to the curator of a museum who organizes and selects specific items or collections for an exhibit; similar to how trainers draw upon knowledge and information, organizing and selecting certain pieces for training purposes. As a trainer myself, I appreciate the meaning of the analogy and considered that the same analogy could certainly be applied to other professions, particularly Emergency Management.

Do we curate in Emergency Management? Emergency Management is certainly a unique profession. It is highly dependent on a broad set of knowledge, much of which is applied to nearly all activities but some applied very specifically. A county emergency manager could be participating in a nuclear power plant exercise one day and giving a presentation on flood preparedness to local communities the next. Both have to do with preparedness, but each require separate and specific applications of technical knowledge. Emergency managers are often jacks of many trades, perhaps specializing in one or two areas, but typically being reasonably well versed in many other topics. In the event that more knowledge is needed, emergency managers know who to reach out to.

Emergency managers coordinate to a higher degree than most other professions – So much so that the profession is actually dependent upon it. No emergency manager in any community can be successful without coordinating with and having cooperation from other community stakeholders. This premise is applied not only to response, but to all phases of emergency management. At present I’m working on a plan for a community that requires some very specific public health expertise. I can write a plan, but the plan won’t have maximum effectiveness without the input of certain subject matter experts.

Similar to trainers, most emergency managers I know have collections of books and reference materials. Many are from courses or seminars they have attended, text books, trade periodicals, and an extensive collection of electronic files. Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) is an excellent living library of reference materials from contributors all over the nation which I go to often to review best practices.

So what do you think about emergency managers being curators?

Book Review – The Manager’s Guide to Presentations

I was recently asked by Impackt Publishing to review one of their newest publications, The Manager’s Guide to Presentations (2014. ISBN-13 978-1783000142. http://www.amazon.com/The-Managers-Guide-Presentations-Lauren/dp/1783000147/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1394631990&sr=8-1&keywords=the+managers+guide+to+presentations).  The book was authored by Lauren M. Hug, an attorney who has likely both seen and conducted a number of presentations.  The books is available in both paperback (which I reviewed) and e-book.  Providing full disclosure, I was not compensated for the review, but was provided with a review copy. 

Initially I was a bit skeptical, as the paperback version is only 44 pages.  Tomes of 100s of pages have been published on the topic.  What information worth publishing can be found in only 44 pages?  Surprisingly, quite a bit! 

The target audience for the book is new managers, who often, as I can personally attest, often have little to no experience developing or delivering presentations.  Yet, given their position, are often called upon to give a variety of presentations.  The book is concise, which is perfect for managers with little available time, providing step by step guidance and several job aids to help them identify needs, outline presentation content, and deliver their presentation. 

If you’ve read any of my blog posts in the past on presentations or training, you know I’m big on ensuring an audience focus – they are, after all, the reason why we are doing the presentation in the first place.  Given that, I was initially dismayed that there was little mention of the audience in the early pages of the book.  However, as I progressed through the book, I realized the sense of the author’s approach.  Instead of focusing first on the audience, the author, keeping in mind that HER target audience was new managers, asks these new managers to put the focus on themselves first.  It’s a great reality check for new managers.  The author emphasizes the need for new managers to examine their own preferences, presentation tendencies, fears, and their particular goal for the presentation.  Some of these reflections are longer-term issues which likely don’t need to be examined for each and every presentation, but certainly the question of the new manager’s goal for the presentation is one that should be asked for each presentation given. 

Once the internal reflection is complete, the author directs the new manager toward the needs of the audience.  While she doesn’t spend as much time on audience analysis as I would like, she still hits the highlights.  She also provides a few items of consideration toward the logistical needs and environment of the presentation, with heavy emphasis on knowing the environment you are stepping into and being prepared for it. 

The second chapter focuses on designing the presentation.  I was pleased here to see considerable reference to the audience, their needs, and what the presenter needed them to walk away with.  Job aids prompting the reader to identify the audience appeal, presentation points, and a call to action help focus the neophyte presenter – brief but good points that Nancy Duarte would be proud of.  They finish off the chapter with several points on audience interaction.  I was quite pleased to see this, particularly since many presenters (both new and experienced) have a tendency to simply present rather than engage the audience. 

The third and final chapter focuses on body language and practicing the presentation.  A number of great ideas are given in this chapter, including pre-presentation discussions with stakeholders, when and how to rehearse, and conducting Q&A sessions. 

Overall, the book is quite effective.  It’s short and to the point, which is ideal for managers who have their attention pulled in many directions.  I would feel confident in handing this book off to a new manager and, if they followed the guidance contained therein, they would be successful in their presentation endeavor.  It’s not going to turn anyone into a presentation expert, but that’s not the goal of the book.  It provides great ideas and insight and the job aids are excellent.  Kudos to the author and publisher for identifying a need and providing good, concise information to address it.