Best Practices: Training, Story, and PowerPoint (Part 1 of 3)

Trainers and other presenters are rediscovering that revolutions sometimes involve little more than returning to the basics. Current discussions about the revolution in how PowerPoint is integrated into presentations, for example, take us back to the importance of good storytelling and visual narrative. It’s all about engagement at every possible level, where nothing is more engaging than a good story.
PowerPoint certainly is receiving its share of criticism from those who suffer through poorly prepared slideshows where the person in the front of the room does nothing beyond reading words and bullet-point items from slides to a somnolent audience—which seems about as fair as hating everything in the universe of chocolate based on a single experience of eating a candy bar ten years past its expiration date.
With its ubiquitous use of bullet points, PowerPoint has been an effective tool for many of us who need help in organizing material. It is now growing to include a narrative/story-based style through Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points (a heavily revised second edition is available) and support from visual facilitators like John Ward. Trainer-bloggers including Michele Martin in The Bamboo Project Blog and Garr Reynolds in Presentation Zen are among those who have already written lengthy pieces on how trainers-teachers-learners can benefit from a more effective use of PowerPoint, and Infopeople webinar and webcast presenters including Kelli Ham and Mary Minow are enthusiastically embracing hybrid versions of all that is being proposed.
There’s no real magic here, nor is any of this particularly complex. The largest step is the one taken backwards—far enough to see the larger picture of what makes a presentation cohesive and compelling rather than comprised of little more than single slides which jump from topic to topic without any consistent flow.
None of this needs imply that bullet points are dead. Edmond Otis’s slides for his recent and well received Infopeople webcast, “Setting Boundaries with Library Patrons,” might drive Beyond Bullet Points aficionados absolutely crazy, but one of his many enthusiastic viewers actually took the time to compliment him for effectively weaving the slides into his overall presentation. Edmond didn’t need to spend the extra time it would have taken to replace the bullets with strong visuals; the bullets—and Edmond—hit the target dead center and left a lively online audience inspired by a lesson they very much had wanted. No stale pieces of chocolate here!
What all of us as trainers-teachers-learners need remember is that we do not have to race from one technique or current trend to another in an all-or-nothing fashion. Outlines continue to work because they give all of us a helpful structure, and bullet points can be an effective tool. The visual beauty and stickiness of Beyond Bullet Points and “Presentation Zen” do not mean that we need to abandon those helpful bullet points, as Kelli’s presentation shows.
Next: Cliff Atkinson and the Path Beyond Bullet Points



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