Friday, April 26, 2013

Exercises in PowerPoint Style

PowerPoint gets trashed in conversations all over the globe, and with good reason. As Edward Tufte has explained in The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint and Peter Norvig masterfully illustrated in The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation, PowerPoint has led to innumerable disastrous presentations.

But not all PowerPoint presentations are disastrous. The best PowerPoint decks incorporate fundamental principles of communication and visual design. The best PowerPoint decks actually enhance communication, and they do so through a wide variety of communication styles.

It's this wide variety of communication styles that led me to make a connection between PowerPoint and Raymond Queneaus' classic work, Exercises in Style, first published in  French in 1947. In Exercises in Style, Queneau tells a very simple, almost inane story. And then he retells the same story 99 times in 99 different styles with labels like metaphorically, hesitation, precision, animism, official letter, blurb, noble, speaking personally, and of course polyptotes.

I've embarked on a parallel project, using PowerPoint. This morning I uploaded 4 PowerPoint decks to SlideShare. Each uses a different style to communicate about the same fictitious project. I plan to add new styles on more or less a weekly basis, starting with styles that can be effective when matched with the right circumstances. The four I created and uploaded this morning are:

  • Bare Outline. This is the simple, boring shell that the rest of the styles are based on.
  • SBAR. This one uses a format created in the patient safety world to succinctly communicate about patients. In this case, I use the SBAR format to describe a software development project.
  • Butterfield Powerbite. This is based on the scheme I use most frequently to organize everything from presentations to short emails to announcements at staff meetings. Dick Butterfield taught me the scheme.
  • Inspirational. This one addresses the same fictional project from the point of view of a senior leader inspiring her workforce to rise to a challenge.
I'm having fun with this so far. Check it out and let me know what you think.

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