Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On Presentations


A presentation is something that is neither blessed to give nor to receive. Maybe that is just me because I am the chap who misplaces his tongue and can only make gurgling noises every time I get up on stage and loses his consciousness every time I sit in front of it. Going by the popularity of Presentations I must be in a minority (of one, perhaps!)

Hey! Now! Wait a minute! What are you thinking of? This is not the twentieth ugly painting or the eighty-fifth bouquet that you get on the day of your wedding that I am talking about, you know – those are presents and anyone who mistakes this one for that one must really hate presents or, maybe again that is just me.

Things were not bad too far back when these abominations were being made on thin films of plastic – apparently you only got a shellacking for a botched job but you really did not have to redo it due to paucity of time. Bill Gates messed it up for all of us with his noseyparker ways – I mean, who was really begging him to go and create that abomination – Power point? Now PPTs are all the rage and if the combined curses of all those who actually had to work on it really took effect, there would be a new version of Hell created especially to cater to the just desserts of Mr. Gates.

Thankfully, I did not suffer the misfortune of having to work on it because of my handwriting. What had my hand-writing got to do with it? You see, I started corporate life in the era of the so-called transparencies and presentations were hand-written on them with marker pens. Now, blessed with a hand-writing which even God would have needed a Rosetta stone to decipher, I was the last choice for making those presentations. When Mr. Gates popped in with his Power point, it did not strike my bosses – unlike you – that my handwriting had been rendered irrelevant to the decision and, thus, I escaped unscathed.

That meant that I was in the wonderful position of neither having to make a Presentation nor to give it and could truly enjoy the process of a Presentation being reviewed and modified. Ah! For an observer, that is truly fun.

CEO: Let us get on with the review of the PPT of our Annual Budget.

My Boss: Yes, Sir!

(First slide with the mandatory Company logo, second slide proudly proclaiming “Annual Budget….” go by unscathed. Third slide on production performance shows up)

CTO : I don’t think that this pie-chart looks great. Why don’t you shift to a bar-graph.

My Boss: Sir! A bar graph shows up the decline in production in three of our five units.

CTO : Don’t argue on irrelevancies. I think this pie-chart looks ugly. A bar chart will give a more pleasing effect.

CFO : (trying to support his section) Maybe you should change those colors on the pie-chart. For example, that purple there can be changed to sky-blue and…

CEO: I think a bar-chart is best. (trying to keep the CFO happy) Yes! You can dispense with the purple and use a sky-blue. Also, change the font to Arial. Now next slide.

And on and on and on! For three hours, it is great fun to see grown-ups wrangling about shapes, colors and fonts of texts till you are completely convinced that the actual facts and figures presented in the slides are the least relevant things in the whole PPT. The only time I actually regret having made a premature exit from the corporate world is when I think of all the fun I could have had out of the background image selection from the vast resources of the Internet.

By now, you may possibly have got the erroneous impression that making a PPT is dead easy. All that you need to do is to think of your prospective audience as a group of children playing with crayons and it is a piece of cake? You know scant little about children and how fickle their likes are.

The next time you bring in the PPT for a review, the CTO finds that pie-charts look better after all, Orange has acquired appeal in excess of the sky-blue and Calibri is the font of the millennium. Back to the drawing board, guys, and drown your sorrows by inventing a new curse for Mr.Gates!

What do you mean that, as the audience, you are not a child playing with crayons? If not, why do you have your eyes glued on the corporate equivalent of the idiot box instead of paying attention to that inviting snacks tray in front of you?

If you liked this you may like to check out the index of other posts of this genre or read a selection of similar posts.

58 comments:

  1. Oh I can relate to this post so much! I hate PowerPoint more than my ex. Yes, that is the intensity of my hatred.

    You know, I always keep the first version as a backup because I know most things discussed in those review sessions have a potential to be rolled back to the original :P

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    1. Very wise, Akanksha :) My boss learned to keep the first version only after some 20 such experiences :)

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  2. I heard this in the Pre-board room meetings with drafts of PPTs. In one such session we tried to make things very beautiful looking. But in the Board meeting the Australians were not at all impressed with colorful and impressive looking presentations but they and the Jap experts quickly got the facts and sweetly barked on our poor performance. Whether you make Bar or Pie, the real experts do not bother about the look but the material inside in it.

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    1. Hmmm! These real experts are a species unknown to me - having dealt mainly with Indians :)

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  3. Ha Ha Ha . It always happens . Can be related . Nice post .
    Travel India

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    1. Good to hear that you can relate to it Vishal!

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  4. He he he! Cannot agree more. In fact we Indians are so inclined towards having a colorful ppt with lots of animations that the makers can confidently use last year's gross projected profit slide this year as well just by changing the design .
    And guess what? NOBODY NOTICED!

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  5. Yeah the aesthetics matter more than content. Even in real life ;-).

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    1. The packaging is more important than the product, huh, Rachna? :)

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  6. Your conversational posts are always so interesting:)a good post:)

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    1. Thanks, Bushra! Been trying these out only recently.

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  7. You are damn right, Suresh! The Bill Gates guy has ruined the joy of pies forever. I had excellent handwriting and girls were always finding me out to write invitations. That changed soon though, courtesy 'desktop publishing'. The damn thing has hit all kinds of writers alike. Humourous, as usual.

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    1. Thanks Uma! Now girls used to avoid me like the plague comes the time when there was some writing to do :)

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  8. Great post Suresh. Can identify with everything that you have written. Enormous number of hours are wasted in debating about the chart types, colors, fonts etc. Do you remember the Bingo ad where Managers iterate among many rotations of the triangle? Someone has rightly called PowerPoint the number one enemy of America.

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    1. Hmmm! I never did realize why intelligent people needed to see pictures to study a company performance - like a kid preferring comics :)

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  9. Oh, talking about PPTs, I remember sitting through those gruelling sessions of crappy PPTs where the presenter would've crammed all that he/she wanted to say in a single slide and just read out of it. I'd rather take that PPT, put it in a notepad and read it than spend all my time in the conference room, trying to suppress my yawns!

    A very nice read it was!

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    1. Like I have said before I have never really seen sense in PPTs :)

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  10. Corporate presentations can be a good form of entertainment :) I can actually imagine you sitting to one side and chuckling!

    Even though I enjoy the resources/internet images/colours/fonts and all that stuff that you've talked about and love changing them too every few days or so on my PC or email and stuff, I absolutely don't enjoy it when I have to do them for serious work-related presentations!

    I have lost it too, at times, when people pay more attention to all the cosmetic stuff rather than focussing on the content!

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    1. It seemed to me that people invariably focused attention on the inessentials, Deepa :)

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  11. Content is the king but so often it gets hidden under the graphs and charts.
    Powerpoint is just a tool like a knife - if used properly it pays huge dividends.
    Steve Jobs used his presentation so effectively..
    Great thoughts which strike a chord to anyone who has ever done Presentation!

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    1. Powerpoint is more like a Swiss knife :) When a tool offers too many options I have normally found that people get lost in exploring the versatility of the tool and forget the purpose :)

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    2. I liked 'exploring the versatility of the tool and forget the purpose' .. so very true

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    3. So you leave everything in the post and like a comment :)

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  12. ohh...i remember the college presentation....when others giving their.....:):):).........but when it comes to my term.......:(:(:(

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  13. I am sure it is fun to watch a presentation being reviewed and modified, more so when the changes are as trivial as color codes.Double the fun if your boss is getting it from his boss.
    I remember giving a few during Biochemistry seminars in college and dread the experience.

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    1. You have no idea how much fun it can be when you do not have to do a thing about it other than watch :)

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  14. Hahahha! I know, Bill Gates will have a lot of answering to do when he meets his Maker!
    I am worried for you. The day it is legal for Corporate India to issue arrest warrants (or, say, public floggings), you are truly done for! :P

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    1. Never fear! By the time they finish making a presentation and then complete the group discussion on what to do to me I would have died a natural death :)

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    2. Ha ha ha! Well said :) I think this is a great topic for another post :) It got me thinking about managers in Parlok putting up a presentation for Yama at their Annual review meeting going over the number of people nuked v/s the forecast :)

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    3. Good idea, Shiva :) I think, maybe, some time soon a post on this :)

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  15. forwarded to hubby dearest for his reading! he hates fancy presentations and i've heard him lashing out at his managers when they send in colourful presentations with fancy fonts....!

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    1. Never yet found someone who had to make presentations liking the process :)

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  16. I am sure ..you are in a position where the CEO or CFO wouldn't be able to cause you much harm :) The post is Super Brilliant and so relevant...With Windows 7 dishing out an array of Animations and Shapes , etc ...I guess the Cosmetic Arguments aren't going to end any time soon.

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    1. I quit the corporate world, Soham, and am leading a happily retired life - else I would not dare remind people that my handwriting is no longer relevant to the issue of making presentations :)

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  17. Great post though you could have just done a Powerpoint presentation instead.

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    1. Did I not tell it well? :) I have no experience in Powerpoint :)

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  18. Power Point! Phew! But won't hear or say a word against it. As far as I am concerned anything against them is shear blasphemy. Thanks power point and Excel for my daily bread and a roof over my head.

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    1. I am sort of blasphemous, you know - though it does not extend to Excel. Excel fed me and allowed me to retire :)

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  19. lol !! what a coincidence now that a took a break from making a marketing presentation .... i clicked on presentations by you :D ... all i am doing is smiling... as if whatever my subconscious mind was discussing with me has been penned down by you sir !! :D amazing !!!

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    1. And, if you have just been working on a presentation, you must have been badly in need of a laugh :)

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  20. kids don't like colors, fonts, texts any more; they are smarter than grown up people.

    A hilarious read as always Suresh!

    Hey, why don't you write something on IPL?

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    1. Hah Debs - that comes of being a bachelor - no idea about modern children :)

      IPL - hmmm! Lemme see :)

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  21. Suresh,

    I could relate to almost all of this blogpost. But, I'd disagree with your assessment of the power of presentation in the very first line of your post.

    I don't know whether a presentation is "blessed" or not, but it certainly has everything to give. And the day is not far when it will be able to receive - presentations are going to go interactive pretty soon.

    A presentation is just a medium to convey a message. Now if one had such a command on the message and oral delivery then why would presentations even be needed. I personally still am a fan of blackboards and chalk ... these days white boards and colored markers. But a presentation is all about giving ... giving information that is. Now how interestingly this particular method of conveying information is exploited is entirely upto the user. Isn't it?

    Happy blogging.

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    1. Nice of you to come over and take the time to comment. Thanks.

      Nice dissertation - but 'blessed to give' means that the person who gives the presentation is blessed so it appears that you have not really understood the first line.

      And, it would also appear that you have not quite got the fact that what I was doing was poking fun at the way the corporate users exploit this method of conveying information.

      That, indeed, is the problem with using humor. People seem too swift to assume that one cannot differentiate between the limitations of the tool and limitations of the user :)

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  22. Well, well, I am your person. I have been a computer teacher and did not mind presentations so much :D

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    1. People come in all shapes and sizes, don't they? :)

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  23. Even children are making PPTs in schools now. My wife who is a teacher get truckloads of ppts to check and rate. The animations and sound effects are a treat.

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    1. Those animations and sound effects are perfectly in order with children, Amit :) But to spend a fortnight of late nights at office to add/modify animation and sound effects to a presentation of the annual budget seems like a bit of over-kill :)

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  24. At least the maker of a presentation has plenty 'to receive' and hell managing multiple versions. But it is envious the way you have been using your status of 'out of corporate world'.

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    1. You started the rigmarole in IFFCO so you deserved every bit of what came your way :) And what is the point in leaving the corporate world if i cannot even make use of the luxury this way :)

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  25. Oh My! Presentations and Meetings...Ways to fool your own selves and others that you are 'WORKING' :)

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  26. I once had to make a presentation to a visiting team and there was silence after my presentation. Then one of the members said I didn't like the font you used, why didn't you use a background picture, there should have been more colour, etc. etc. My team and I were left speechless as not one question was asked on the content of the presentation.

    Thanks for this wonderfully written post and the laughs it generated, Suresh. :-)

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    1. This was one you asked for and I am glad I did not disappoint you :)

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