The Naked Presenter?

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José A Bowen, a dean at Southern Methodist University near Dallas, Texas, found himself in the news in July when he challenged his colleagues to present “naked”.

This might seem an unlikely cause for an academic to espouse (especially a Methodist).

It turns out, however, that he was merely calling for technology – laptops, handhelds and particularly PowerPoint – to be taken out of the lecture room. Such things are distracting, said Bowen, and get in the way of the message the teacher is trying to put across.

This idea has since gathered support, particularly in America. Bowen claimed that many professors were using PowerPoint as a crutch rather than as a creative tool. It was also discouraging debate and interaction in the lecture room.

Is Bowen right? And if so, should his prescription apply to business presentations too?

There’s no doubt that presentations can be dull. The chances are that you’ve sat through one of them in the not too distant past. But I don’t think it’s the fault of PowerPoint.

There’s an old adage in my profession that seems apt. It says that there are no boring subjects – only boring writers. In the same way, I’d claim that there are no boring presentations, only boring presenters.

PowerPoint is a fantastic and powerful presentation tool, and ejecting it from meetings really would seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. After all, if someone was playing the piano in a boring way, you wouldn’t ban pianos. But you might suggest that person could learn to play the piano better.

I think that’s the key. PowerPoint is a great tool, but nothing more than a tool. It won’t make boring presentations interesting. The answer is to use it more creatively.

For instance, some people have complained that they can’t see the faces of their audience when PowerPoint is running. Well, there’s no rule that says you can’t turn it off now and then, is there?

In the same way, it’s perfectly possible to move away from the screen, engage with the audience, ask them questions, have debates, and all the other things Bowen was advocating. These things will help make your presentation better – and so can PowerPoint.

PowerPoint can do things that older technologies couldn’t imagine. You only have to think of chalk boards or overhead projectors to appreciate that.

Perhaps the answer, then, is to keep PowerPoint but liven up the presentation in other ways. To use it as it was intended: as an aid, not a crutch.

In other words, maybe presenting “half naked” would be a better idea.

By David Vickery


Published On: 23rd Oct 2009

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