Week 85: Better Presentations

Some thoughts about the tools we use to give better presentations and talks.

Goodbye Powerpoint

So, we all hate Powerpoint presentations, right? Nevertheless, it’s the de-facto standard in our industry for communicating ideas, proposals and basically everything else we want someone to agree on. It’s the most often required deliverable from clients for the kind of work we do. Sure, everyone is trying to come up with some fancy add-ons to make a difference. A video here, some print-outs or posters there. But most of the time, the presentation deck remains the key component of any kind of presentation.1

It’s interesting that we all still stick to a concept that goes back to a time when overhead-projectors were considered fancy. That’s where Powerpoint got all its metaphors from.
Time to rethink the whole concept, I’d say. We’re constantly running into problems with presentation decks. Things tend to change last minute. The client or the audience brings up a new issue during the talk and makes your deck instantly outdated. There’s no spontaneity, no room to adapt. This is not how we want to work with our clients. We don’t like to “present” something where we talk them through a deck and they have to listen. We’d rather discuss our approach and adapt it on the fly to whatever feedback, questions and ideas come up. This is why we’re moving more and more away from pure presentation decks2.

Our new formula

diagram

We actually didn’t set out on purpose to change the way we do presentations. It kind of happened by accident. As you know, we’re big fans of Magic Paper as a tool for brainstormings and thinking through ideas and concepts. So instead of turning a concept we’ve developed on Magic Paper into a deck, we’ve started to bring Magic Paper to the client and redo our thought process for them in a bit more refined and cleaned up version. So far, most clients really like that approach.

First, the disconnect that happens with every transition to the next slide, when we lose the audience for a second while they scan the new one, doesn’t happen anymore. We can draw or write the stuff the second we’re saying it, which helps the audience to remain focussed.
Questions and feedback can be added instantly and become a recorded part of the whole discussion right away, which is very helpful for the post-processing of the meeting results. It also communicates to the client that nothing is fixed and that they should feel free to add.
As we leave each sheet of Magic Paper hanging on the wall, the client and we get a great view at the whole picture and can easily refer to earlier points.
Another big point is that we can’t use slides to navigate through a meeting. All we have are empty sheets of Magic Paper and maybe a scribble in a notebook. We actually have to know our content pretty well so that we don’t forget something. That way, our client knows that we’re really involved in what we talk about and know our stuff without external aid.

After our first experiences, we’re now starting to use Magic Paper as the center of talks and presentations and use decks only where we need a clean picture of something like screenshot etc. My talk on Location-based Services was the first full presentation I gave with that approach and it worked out beautifully. As you can see, I used scribbles to explain the basic concepts and slides to show screenshots of apps and websites. I gave the talk three times and the flip chart always looked a bit different for each talk as the questions and feedback always varied a bit.

So this is how we try to do client presentations and talks now, with a good combination of Magic Paper and presentation decks, using each tool for what it does best. This is a big departure from the usual dog and pony shows that agencies like to give to clients. As we’re constantly moving more and more into business consulting work, we’re also looking for better ways to collaborate with our clients. This is one expression of that change.

Is the iPad the perfect presenter tool?

Nevertheless, we’re already looking for the next iteration of this presentation style. I was really impressed when I saw DJ Spooky present in Belgrade a few weeks back. He used an iPad mirrored to the projector and constantly moved back and forth between his dj app, the browser and a huge collection of photos and slides he had in his picture folder on the iPad. He was constantly improvising and reacting to questions from the audience. He didn’t care about a picture-perfect presentation but wanted to communicate his points in the best ways possible.

This got me thinking about the iPad as a great improvisation tool for presenters. So I’ve bought a VGA adapter and a Bamboo Stylus and will start experimenting with this approach. The stylus in combination with Paper is basically the Magic Paper replacement. Slides will go into the pictures folder. I can easily access further material like studies and examples via Evernote and the browser. Now I’m curious to see how audiences will perceive it. Will it make my talks more interesting or will they get lost in too many formats on screen? I’m going to find out and adapt accordingly.

What else

We’ve wrapped up all the events throughout the last weeks and are back at the office in full project and new biz mode. Now is the time to get in all those nice summer projects. So if you would like us to work on something for you like for example an evaluation of your latest digital activities, a research project on innovation in your market, an inspiring event for your employees, clients or partners or a workshop to future-proof your next steps while you’re lying at the beach, get in contact.

If you need some reading material at the beach: we’ve created a PDF of our social media strategy framework, so you can read it offline. We’ve also made a MOBI and a EPUB file available so your Kindle or other ebook readers won’t go empty.

I will be at the Dachis Social Business Summit in Berlin on Wednesday. If you’re there, too, let me know.


  1. Please, don’t mention the five minutes in which we all thought that Prezi would be the next big thing in presentations until we got very dizzy from the spins and twirls and realized that it gets pretty boring a minute later. 

  2. We’ve been able to almost solely work in Keynote instead of Powerpoint, which has eased the pain a bit. 

Author: Johannes

Johannes is a strategist and consultant for digital communications. His work is informed by his experience of working with brands like Deutsche Telekom, MTV, Postbank, Maggi and Nike and by his insatiable appetite for finding the bigger patterns behind current developments in technology and science. Holding a diploma in Media System Design, Johannes is a regular speaker at web and marketing conferences like Republica and the Social Media Summit.

4 thoughts on “Week 85: Better Presentations”

  1. HTML5 are my new favorite way to present. You can pull in anything that’s on the web or stored locally, and adapt the slides on the fly. They work with or without an internet connection. They also work for all screen sizes, and since it uses HTML + CSS, you can customize them very well.

    Some sweet examples: http://paulrouget.com/dzslides/

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