Holidays in the 70’s and 80’s. Some of you might have experienced them. Some might have survived them without too much bodily harm. But most of you might be too young. In those days my father, a passionate amateur photographer, would take thousands of pictures of absolutely everything we did on our vacation or on weekend trips to the Belgian coast. Pictures in front of sand castle, pictures in front of real castle, pictures in front of waffle shop next to castle, pictures with waffle in hand, pictures after eating waffle and so on. Snapshots avant la lettre!

What are 1000 digital pictures nowadays? Nothing. They are taken as fast as they are deleted. The photographic process claimed hours, days and even months of work in a dark room. Processing and transporting all those precious memories onto paper or – and here it becomes interesting for our article –  ‘slides’. Just imagine the development, management and even the physical space of all the photo albums, trays and boxes to store the pictures!

Each Sunday, during our family reunion lunch, or as I remember at completely random moments in time and space, we were asked to gather around and sit in front of a light grey roll-up screen.

We all knew what was going to happen next. We were going to be exposed to the presentation of all the latest slides developed or at least to a selection of the most popular, or the most funny snapshots taken during one of our trips. Castles of sand, waffles eaten.

By the sound of snoring uncles around me, I concluded that it seemed to be difficult to stay awake during these presentations. Try to sit through 300 slides. Try to stay awake, specially after my grandmother’s copious lunch on a sunny afternoon. Myself I would have preferred being outside with my friends riding on a bicycle or getting into some sort of exciting trouble, but this is completely on a side note.

In business a similar feeling of boredom can rise during a presentation of “slides”, arduously wishing you were outside doing something completely different. Three reasons. The storyline is missing or incoherent, there is no feeling or emotional connection with the content, and there is too much repetition and way too much content crammed inside one presentation. Let the visuals work. It is meant as a visual support for the presenter, but use clear titles and bullet points expressing the story line and structure so the spectator can stay on track.

When I started my career, slides where still printed from the computer straight onto photographic film, then developed in a lab and placed in slide trays which could then be inserted into a slide projector and projected on a screen during a business meeting. “Next!”

Transitions were possible, but only with more advanced slide projectors, which had several trays or double lenses that could project overlapping images.

This in a way explains all the terminology we find in software like PowerPoint. PowerPoint became hugely popular during the second half of the nineties, not only because Microsoft acquired and terminated (or shall we say incorporated) all the other competing software companies, but also because of the rise of digital projectors in the business environment. It became as easy to create slideshows as it was to write a memo. Templates and themes were available for free. So was clip art (here we are again)!


The 3 rules

  1. Images are stronger than words (moving images are even stronger)
  2. Keep the story coherent and structured so the spectator can easily understand the flow
  3. Make the content engaging to build an emotional rapport with the spectator

In the last two decades PowerPoint hasn’t changed a lot. Apart from some animation and transition tools, we are still using the same concept of a slideshow, even when the technology allows us to use more thrilling ways to present. We can use animation, film, sound and interactivity, all things that are readily available within PowerPoint but boxed into (and not always in the most graceful way) a slide.

I think that the future of corporate presentations will evolve in this direction. It might be a more expensive solution because you would need a specialist to build such an experience at this day and age. At least till new software will let us build these things by ourselves without much knowledge or skills. Many attempts already exist in this field, but not many are commercially released or as available as the ubiquitous Microsoft applications in the office.

Prezi for example uses a more dynamic ‘journey’ feel (some of us might get dizzy though!) but still, it uses slides at its core. Online DIY platforms are on the rise and digital footage is – similar to all the clip art Microsoft used to force upon us – available everywhere you look on the Internet. We can take snapshots, video bits and sound excerpts straight from our phone and one day we will be able to combine them in a stunning visually rich presentation, all on the go.

We would then be able to stream it straight to any monitor, screen or projector that is physically available. One thing that will not really change, even with superior technology, are the 3 rules. It will keep the people from wishing they were outside doing something else than looking at your presentation.

This article was originally written for Pink Entropy’s blog section called the Pink Tank.