Death by Powerpoint
I had four sales presentations last week from some great people and great companies looking to get their products on to my portfolio, and each one came with a mandatory PowerPoint presentation on either the company or its products (or both).
The content was fine, and some of the slides had obviously had a designers eye involved at some stage since they didn’t look too bad at all, but there really is something mind numbing about watching slide after slide appear on the screen in front of you.
InfoGraphics and the A3 Plan
I’ve been looking for a Powerpoint alternative myself for sometime but as yet haven’t really found anything that is as quick and easy to use with the aim of getting information into a structured form to present to a prospective customer or to internal decision makers -and that really frustrates me.
In a perfect world I’d employ a full time graphic artist and approach all of my information delivery using ‘infographics’ because I think they are the best way to get information over to stakeholders, but I simply don’t have the resource at the moment to justify it, so I’m left with trying to cobble together information in an attractive yet useful way.
I see two approaches that have real potential. The first is an A3 report, an idea that comes from the Toyota Production System (I did a lot of research into TPS and just in time manufacturing a number of years ago and the TPS has some awesome ideas in it that would fit any industry).
The idea here is that you reduced a complicated idea and information set down to the point where is fits in a strcutured way onto a single piece of A3. There has to be enough detail that all pertinent data is available for decision making, but because of physical space limitations you end up taking out all the extra stuff (like verbal flourishes, excessive tabulated data, and over the time stats) and just leave in the real meat of the proposal.
I created one of these back in 2008 when we were looking to update our WAN infrastructure and it really helped me get a technical idea and suggestion over to my management in the quickest time possible. I also found that by showing it to them outside of a formal meeting session, I could get feedback and polish it – including their suggestions. By the time I presented it they had all seen it – knew what I was aiming to achieve and voted on it within minutes. I now use A3 presentations all the time for decision making.
The A3 plan is an awesome tool for decision making, but I also need something for selling an idea or product or service in a more visual and controlled manner. The A3 plan by design lets the reader see everything at a glance but sometimes controlling the flow and timing of information delivery is just as important as the information itself (like when you’re doing a sales pitch, or introducing and educating on a new topic).
Timed & Structured Information Delivery
That’s where Powerpoint is really strong, as its structured nature allows for controlled timing and delivery, and if you go looking for alternatives there really is much out there. Sure there are functional Powerpoint copies – most of them web based (like google docs presentations, 280 slides & slide rocket), but if you’re using any of those you might as well be using Powerpoint.
Then there is prezi.com – finally a new idea for delivering a presentation. Its a web based tool (although you can use it offline in the pro version) that is kind of a mashup between the Silverlight Deepzoom (see the best example at the Hard Rock Cafe’s memorabilia site) and one of those spinning fairground rides that make you feel a bit sick and hurt your neck. Take a look at the Coca Cola presentation on the prezi site and you’ll see what I mean.
I really like this as a concept because it gives you a visual freedom to surprise your audience and I particularly like the idea of working through a set of standard looking slides before zooming all the way out (or in) to give them a completely different view. Its new and fresh (at least for now) and you can be fairly sure that if you’re one of a handful of sales pitches the client will be seeing that yours will stand out from the others.
The Open Source Option