Training, Story, and PowerPoint (Part 2 of 3)

January 1, 2010

“Tell me a story” has to be one of the most basic archetypal command-requests of our civilization. It is, therefore, completely natural that storytelling would be part of every endeavor we undertake, including training-teaching-learning. So let me tell you a story.

Attending a presentation by Leadership Challenge co-author Jim Kouzes a few years ago, I was looking forward to hearing stories about the qualities great leaders shared in common. I was as much fascinated by Kouzes’ use of a visual facilitator as I was by his engaging examples, so I took the opportunity to talk with visual facilitator John Ward after the presentation ended.

“Read Beyond Bullet Points,” Ward counseled me at one point in our brief conversation, and I did. Twice.

Cliff Atkinson’s book takes readers through a “Lights! Camera! Action!” system which starts all PowerPoint presentations with development of a great filmic narrative tool—a script—beginning with just a few major points each speaker/trainer wants to convey to an audience, then moving into a planning/storyboard phase with existing PowerPoint tools including the slide sorter function. Using the slide sorter assures that we see numerous slides in sequence at a glance so we won’t lose sight of the big picture while preparing individual slides.

Atkinson helps make it easy. He provides a story template in the book, through a CD-ROM which comes with the revised (2008) edition, and through his online Beyond Bullet Points website. The final phase of the process includes guidelines on how to offer a winning combination of narrative and visuals so that audiences remember what they are being offered.

As we read, learn from, and use the largely revised second edition of the book, we find Atkinson’s ideas coming even more clearly into focus. What he offers is the basic “Introduction to PowerPoint” course which so many of us sought and missed when we first began using the program as a training-teaching-learning tool, and he gives us an entirely new way of looking at an overly familiar and sometimes stale tool. He does it in a straightforward, helpful, guiding fashion, and is continuing to build a community of like-minded presenters through his website, blog, printed and online material, and—since we are in a Web 2.0 world—even a LinkedIn user group.

This appears to be a story with a happy ending; it leads to encouraging innovative presentations which learners will remember. What more could a trainer-teacher-learner want?

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Next: Sticky Training and A Whole New Mind


Training, Story, and PowerPoint (Part 1 of 3)

January 1, 2010

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 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 points 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.

PowerPoint and its ubiquitous use of bullet points 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 colleagues including Peter Bromberg 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 well received Infopeople webcast, “Setting Boundaries with Library Patrons,” might drive Beyond Bullet Points aficionados absolutely crazy, but one of his 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.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Next: Cliff Atkinson and the Path Beyond Bullet Points


Presentation Skills: John Ward and Thinking Visually

January 1, 2010

John Ward calls himself a “visual thinker.” He draws visual representations of meetings, and therein lies an idea for any trainer lucky enough to have graphics and sketching skills—or a friend or colleague willing to provide them in a training workshop.

Ward’s techniques are always well displayed, and a presentation he completed a few years ago through the Sonoma Leadership Systems’ Redefining Leadership Development Best Practices Forum in Walnut Creek still remains worth citing. Presenters included training gurus Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, and Roy Pollock, co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning. Ward’s tools, as always, were a set of markers in various colors; large blank sheets of white paper posted on a wall; good penmanship, design, and cartooning skills; great listening skills; and an ability to engage in improvisation.

As each presenter spoke, Ward created a visually attractive and cohesive mural comprised of multi-colored words, symbols, and sketches to summarize what the audience was hearing; by the time he and the presenters were finished, the audience could see—and more importantly, walk away with the memory of–a striking visual representation designed to make the lesson stick. For Pollock’s part of the presentation (“The Road Map for Optimizing the Impact of Leadership Training”), Ward sketched a bridge and arched key words and phrases above and below the bridge at the top of his mural-in-progress. The phrase “bridging the gap” formed the arc above the bridge; the words “optimizing the impact of leadership training” flowed in an arc directly below the bridge; and the words “learning” and “doing” were anchored on either side of the bridge to literally demonstrate how they were linked by the speaker’s presentation.

The result: a simple, charming, and memorable representation of a first-rate presentation which might not have been as easily remembered without Ward’s illustration.

“It’s about being sensory,” Ward noted after the presentation and subsequent presentations I’ve attended. By hearing Ward, seeing his illustrations, reading the key terms on Pollock’s PowerPoint slides and seeing them graphically and colorfully reproduced on the mural, participants see an interesting presentation become a memorable one—which increases the possibility that it will have a lasting impact when attendees return to their workplace to apply what they have learned.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article appeared on Infoblog.


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