Great Idea + Poor Presentation = ?

If these were the choices, which one would you choose?

  • Poor Idea + Great Presentation?
  • Great Idea + Poor Presentation?

In the academic world, the latter is perfectly fine. I think this is where most managers learn how to make really bad presentations – in b-school. No one argues with the finance/ marketing/ strategy professor who puts slide after slide of mind-numbing data and lines of bullet points. Instead, we imitate them.

However, with attention spans constrained by the new mail pop-up, the former equation seems to work. I am not making a value judgment, this is not how we want things to be. But this is how presentations seem to work. Form is at least as important as function, as I experienced in a painfully sleep-deprived way in last week’s consulting case competition at Babson.

Which finally brings me to the point of this post: If at b-school, poor quality presentations are commonly accepted as the standard, then two things happen:

1. Few appreciate a great presentation. If you do it well, no one notices it. If you put in the hours, your team does not see it. What the audience eventually feels is – “That is a great idea”. However, make a bad presentation, filled with lines of text. Then everyone knows it was a pathetic job, even though no one may be able to pin-point why.

It’s like a building with a weak foundation. If the foundation is good, it gets ignored completely. If it is bad, the building will most likely crash (the audience will remain unconvinced, if they are still awake).

2. Anyone can achieve excellence. If no one knows how to do a good job, and if everyone is satisfied with pathetic output, then the first person to do something even mildly better than the others, makes an impressive impact.

As MBA students, this is the choice we have: Shall we continue to revel in our intellectual arrogance and throw data at the audience, without seeing how they receive it? Or shall we take this opportunity to understand how to stand and deliver quality presentations to hook hearts, heads and hopefully, wallets.

The choice is ours.

Published in: on May 2, 2008 at 1:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Two quotes to think about, from “The March of Folly”

I’ve just finished reading The March of Folly – From Troy to Vietnam. Here are two quick quotes:

Pope Alexander VI: A leader begins by not hearing the truth, and ends up not wanting to hear it.

I found this very interesting. You start from a position where no one gives you the truth. Soon enough, you reach a point, when you don’t want to hear any of it.

Robert McNamara: The greatest contribution Vietnam is making, is developing an ability in the United States to fight a limited war . . . without arousing the public ire…almost a necessity in our history because this is the kind of war we’ll likely be facing for the next fifty years.

When he said this in the 1960s, did McNamara just predict the future? Or did he help create it?

Published in: on April 25, 2008 at 7:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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‘A picture is worth a 1000 words’ style

Even though marketing guru Seth Godin and Silicon Valley entrepreneur Steve Jobs are remarkably different from each other, their presentation styles have something in common.

Visual appeal.

Look at some of Godin’s slides from a July 2000 presentation:

Now look at some of Steve Job’s slides from an iPod presentation. Notice the powerful combination of impressive slides with a very large screen to create an even greater visual impact.

And before we close this series, let’s contrast this with how Microsoft executives are known to present (I have nothing against MS – I just wish that they would use their own software better) :

And here come the bullet points:

The key take-away for a strategic marketer?

Communication = Transfer of emotion.

Not data.

Communication = Transfer of emotion.

Source: For more information, check out Garr Reynolds’

Published in: on April 8, 2008 at 12:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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Masayoshi Takahashi – The Takahashi Method

About five years ago, Masayoshi Takahashi, a computer programmer in Japan, had to give a 5-minute presentation at a conference. He wanted a way to get his message clear and powerful in such a short time.

Unfortunately, at that time, he did not have software like PowerPoint. He did not have access to photos or drawing programs either. So he was stuck with text.

Still, he wanted to be different. He wanted to be effective.

So he went big with the text. Really big. And thus was born the Takahashi method.

For this, he had to identify the best word for each concept/slide as he took the audience through his presentation. The words or phrases resemble newspaper headlines rather than sentences which must be read. His slides, though they are all text, are visual, visual in the sense that they are instantly understood and support his talk.

As he says, if you have bullets or sentences, the audience will read those and may miss what you are saying.

The Takahashi Method

The Takahashi method – title slide

Four Points

4 points – here he discusses four benefits of using the method

First point

(1) – the first point is that…

Easy to see.

easy to see – …it is easy to see.

This method provides clear visual support for the audience and helps make the content more memorable. While it may not be a perfect method or applicable in all situations, it is still far better than the method used in most presentations. Many slide presentations consist of boring reams of bulleted text (used later or simultaneously as “handouts”) which many people can not read since the text on screen is too small (though that rarely keeps people from trying to read the slides anyway).

Sources and more information:

Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 11:25 pm  Comments (2)  
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Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

As a venture capitalist, I have to listen to hundreds of entrepreneurs pitch their companies. These pitches are so lousy that I’m losing my hearing, there’s a constant ringing in my ear, and every once in while the world starts spinning. Before there is an epidemic of this disease in the venture capital community, I am trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint.

Guy Kawasaki, Serial entrepreneur,

Author of “Art of the Start”

This is the Guy Kawasaki 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint:

  • 10 slides,
  • 20 minutes (or less), and
  • 30 points font (or more).

You desire simplicity?

Here it is.


If you want something much more complex to redeem your intellectual self, it is unlikely that you will find anything of much use on this blog. Except, of course, a recommendation that you read this book. Throw away all your self-improvement books, and read this. Embrace simplicity. (By the way, since we are talking about simplicity, watch what happens if Microsoft had packaged the iPod. And how in the war of search engines, Google evolved, while Yahoo devolved, all through simplicity).

But I digress.

According to Kawasaki, if you can’t compress all your information on to 10 slides, using 20 minutes and a font size of 30, then you are probably saying too much for one presentation.

I think the key problem area #1 is a small font size. The adverse effects of this? One, there is too much data on each slide, which makes audiences zone out. Plus, as the presenter, you might be tempted to read out the whole slide – that is really bad, since the audience can read faster than you and thus you and the audience will be out of synch.

Back to Kawasaki now:

“So please observe the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. If nothing else, the next time someone in your audience complains of hearing loss, ringing, or vertigo, you’ll know you didn’t cause the epidemic.”

You can read the original article by Guy Kawasaki, here.

Published in: on April 7, 2008 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Want better team results? Don’t kill Laocoon

Last week, in a combined ISM-ODP-TOM [essentially, IT strategy, organizational behavior, operations] class, we discussed the rise of Cisco Systems, and how the burst of the internet bubble of 2001 took them completely by surprise. How did this happen?

In early 1995 Cisco went ‘live’ with a new ERP system, which was so good that they could “literally close our books within hours”, in what the industry called the ‘virtual close’. The same information systems also helped them forecast (so they say) the slowdown in the Japanese market and capture half the switching market there. Cisco, with its ERP systems, seemed to have created a crystal ball to predict the future.

However, at a time when their competitors were scaling down after seeing signs of an oncoming recession, Cisco continued to project increased growth rates. After all, YoY growth rates were very strong – 66% in the first quarter of 2001, increasing from 55% for the last quarter of 2000. They had no cause for worry.

And then the bubble burst.

Bubble burst

In the third fiscal quarter of 2001, sales plunged by 30% and the company had its first negative quarter in more than a decade. Soon enough, 8,500 employees were laid off. In 13 months, Cisco’s stock crashed from $82 to $13.63.

In hindsight, it seems that these very IT systems that enabled their rapid growth also clouded their judgment. The crystal ball wasn’t really crystal clear. An article by Scott Berinato concludes by saying that Cisco did not need crystal balls, and the “ability to look away from the computer screen and out the window to see the rain coming down just might have sufficed”.

When we discussed this in class, many believed that the management had made a ridiculous error – after all, they just had to ‘look outside their window, instead of into their computer screens’. Had they seen what their competitors were doing, they could have seen the edge before they fell off the cliff.

Then, the discussion evolved – if you were the market leader, growing at such a rapid pace, would you look at those behind you, and try to emulate them? Or would your beliefs (forged through continued success) be further reinforced, to make you continue to rush straight ahead?

When things go wrong, as an outsider, it is easy to say – they were proud, blind to their own faults, and so on. We can blame them for relying on their IT systems too much. We can pick fault with their inability to listen to market signals, to listen to reality, to understand market dynamics. However, none of this ability to analyze past mistakes is going to make us better at forecasting and preventing future ones.

One of the books I am reading right now is The March of Folly – one of my strategy professors at Babson loves this book.

Through four detailed examples, it shows how humans are almost conditioned to ignore bad news, to continue with their wooden-headed inertia down the wrong roads (these provide cases which future MBA students love to critique, criticize and condemn). But what I find most interesting about this book is that it focuses on errors that were apparent and clearly visible, albeit to a minority – whose voices were not heard in the majority’s roar of idiocy.

Even in myths, bearers of bad news suffer terribly – just as Laocoon warned not to bring the Trojan Horse into the city, serpents from the sea came and killed both him and his two sons. Cassandra, suffered to a lesser degree, though she now epitomizes what is now known as the Cassandra Syndrome – the ability to see the future, along with the curse of not being believed by anyone.


The underlying theme of this book is that as humans, especially when working in groups, we are bound to make such errors. Group think, inertia, and momentum, compel us to spread good news and cheer. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news. Who wants to be a spoilsport?

What can be done about this? In groups, designate a person as the ‘Devil’s Advocate’ – the one person who has the right to poke holes and search for flaws, even when things are going superbly well. Block some time in every meeting, to discuss ‘What must happen, for this project to fail?’. And if this happens, what can we do now, to prevent its occurrence. This is the thinking mode Edward de Bono called the ‘Black Hat’ – the hat of criticism and caution.

six hats

Will this ensure we get all the bad news? No.

Will it better enable us to be more receptive to changes and to negative information from around us, and to get a non-rosy perspective? Hopefully, yes!

In Jack Welch’s words, ‘Stop the bullshit’.

Published in: on February 24, 2008 at 1:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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Power Corrupts, PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects:

• induced stupidity
• turned everyone into bores
• wasted time
• degraded quality and credibility of communication.

These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware – computer programs for presentations – is everywhere.

Edward R. Tufte,

Author of The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

PowerPoint, the most common form of slideware, can be found everywhere. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. But how many of us really know how to make an impact with it? Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience.

Today, instead of presenting data in this tabular format (bland & boring),

Bad data example

we now do so in this pictorial format (colourful & confusing).

Bad Excel chart example

For an audience member sitting in a group of 20-200 members, neither of these 2 slides would make sense. Nor would a 10-bullet slide!

Communication is the transfer of emotion.

Repeat that. Communication = Transfer of Emotion.

If you have to give data, cancel the meeting and give each person the written report. Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you are excited. To excite them! The ideal PowerPoint presentation would connect with their emotional side, not muddle things up with more data. Can’t that go into the documents you give out?

So if we are to give great presentations, and not bore our colleagues and friends, then where do we turn to, for inspiration? In my next 3 posts, I’ll profile 3 major presentation styles:

1. Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

2. Masayoshi Takahashi – The Takahashi method

3. The Seth Godin-Steve Jobs style

Stay tuned!

Published in: on February 4, 2008 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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