Friday, September 19, 2008

Powerpoint as the Deliverable

Increasingly, I am finding that clients prefer a slide deck (i.e. MS Powerpoint) as a deliverable rather than a regular document. The reality is that many people don't really read documents and would rather their consultants not waste the time writing words that will not be read. As a consultant, I usually find myself having mixed feelings. On the one hand, I don't like the idea of typing prose into a vacuum (and contribute to the tangle of content that they may have hired me to solve). On the other hand, at the end of the project, I normally have a lot to say and it is difficult to squeeze all this information into a slide deck that can be left behind and stand on its own. The resulting product tends to look like an epic novel is coffee-table book format - or like the slides in this You Tube clip.

Slides were meant to accompany a presentation and the best presenters only use them for visual cues to complement what they say. Slides written in this philosophy leave too much to interpretation without the presenters explanation. When my deliverable is a slide presentation I get around this limitation by packing a lot of explanation in the speakers notes. Recently, I have gone so far as to make foot notes in the slide that reference points I make in the speakers notes. The result is this strange hybrid that I am not quite sure how to characterize. It is essentially a document-like narrative organized around bold themes. People can just browse through the themes and drill into topics that are of interest. However, I suspect that few readers actually do this.

Sites like SlideShare ask slides to stand on their own and, therefore, seem to favor wordy slides. The ones with just pictures leave the reader in the dark imagining what the presentation must have been about. I have felt the compulsion to write presentation slides for a SlideShare reader and wonder if other presenters think this way too. In the extreme, I could see a presentation turn into a group reading of paragraphs of narrative. I hope that it does not come to that.