The Slide Deck is Dead- Replace it with IDEAS to make Communications work
By Tim Pollard
Some presentations are so mind-numbing that "Death by PowerPoint" has become a standard cocktail party joke. Worse yet, they are completely ineffective at making a message stick, compelling people into action and driving results -- including sales.
Still, for lack of alternatives we keep using it, and the dreaded slide deck remains, overwhelmingly, the accepted way business and professional presentations are made. Why? Quite simply, because nobody knows what to replace it with, or how.
But there's an answer - one that's equally simple: instead of slides, the organizing framework of all communications should be IDEAS.
Science shows that the brain is wired to process ideas. That's because your brain is basically reductionist in nature. It naturally reduces a piece of communication down to its core ideas. It does not, however, traffic well at the level of facts and data.
Let me bring this to life with an example. You go to a cocktail party and are introduced to a random stranger. "Hi, this is my friend Phil." You greet Phil politely, and then part company. Three minutes later, what's happened? You've forgotten his name, and no matter how hard you try to recall it, it simply isn't there. It's happened to all of us, but the reason this happens tells us something critical about how the brain stores information.
Why do we forget that new name so readily? It isn't laziness. It's because the brain stores information contextually. When presented with new information the brain looks for context - for something to attach that information to. If it can find it, the information can be stored. But if no context is found, it can't be stored. We call information like this an "intellectual orphan."
Now, why does this matter to communicators? Because when you create any argument that simply moves from point to point - "That was point 3, let's look at point 4" - but where there's no logical flow BETWEEN those points, you are presenting intellectual orphans and your argument is destined to be forgotten within minutes. And it's what most presenters do most of the time. A presentation on "Five things we must get right this year" is simply "Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil..."
Similarly, if a colleague asked you what happened in a meeting you recently attended, you wouldn't give them a description of every single detail. Instead, your brain would naturally reduce the meeting to the 2 or 3 big ideas that came out of it. And that's what you'd tell your colleague.
When communication aligns with the brain's idea-based way of consuming information, incredible, breakthrough effectiveness is possible. But when you misalign with the brain, you are guaranteed to fail. It is certainly true that dense, excessive, poorly sequenced PowerPoint slides are doomed to fail, but the reason is how badly that approach misaligns with the way the brain works.
The key isn't prettier slides. The key is understanding what the brain really wants and therefore focusing on big ideas. Thus, the path to truly effective communication - and to replacing PowerPoint once and for all - is to conceptualize your talk without it as follows:
Clarify your ideas
The best communications powerfully land a small number of big ideas. We saw Steve Jobs do so masterfully, and we've seen it in every TED talk. Great presentation designers build their communication around 2 or 3 really big ideas they want the audience to walk away with. Ask yourself: what outcome are you seeking and what argument will lead to that outcome? Therein lie your ideas.
Orient your communication around these ideas
Create a narrative flow in a logical sequence from one idea to the next - NOT from one fact or data point to the next. Facts and data are still important as illustrations or demonstrations of your ideas, but they are the supporting cast. At the core, the presentation is about the ideas. And if you can build a logical narrative flow from one idea to the next, the audience will be engaged every step of the way.
Respect the brain's capacity: simplify
Even the sharpest human brain has a surprisingly limited capacity when it comes to taking in new information. While the brain's total processing capacity is staggering, only a tiny fraction of that power can be devoted to processing new information in a presentation. In light of this, you'll need to aggressively simplify, reducing both quantity and complexity.
Rehearse, with no slides as crutches.
Unpalatable as it might sound, before going live, it's crucial to stand up and talk through an ideas-driven narrative with no slides as crutches. This ensures that you actually know what you're talking about - and that your message comes out as you'd like it to.
Once you've shifted to an idea-based approach, you can use a simple Word document to map out your story. And what goes on the screen? Now you can embed your ideas by incorporating great visuals as complements rather than prompts.
Start implementing these concepts, and you'll have communications that actually work.