The World’s Best WHAT Contest?

November 3, 2010

From one badly-named contest to another.

Apparently something called the World Series has just been won by a team of giants from San Francisco. Yet this competition was contested only by American teams. There’s a badly-named contest if ever I saw one, although I didn’t see this because of course, being a US-only event, it’s not shown in France.

There’s another badly-named contest currently running though. I have written before, as have many other presentation experts, about how one of the fundamental problems with modern corporate communication is that we mistake a slideset for a presentation.

A deck of slides is a visual aid for a presentation – it is not a presentation. If your slides say everything, then why do you need to stand up and talk? If they say everything, and you talk anyway, will anyone actually listen to you? No, they’ll try to read, and try to listen, and fail miserably at both.

There is a name for images and text, without audio, which tell a story. They’re called cartoons. Now I have nothing against cartoons, and they can be excellent means of communication (not just to kids), but they are not presentations.

A presentation is when somebody stands up and tries to communicate something to a group of people. With or without visual aids.

So I find it fundamentally wrong that SlideShare is running a competition which they call “The World’s Best Presentation Contest”, and almost all the front-runners are slidedecks which tell the whole story. Many of them look great, and Scott Schwertly’s promo for his new book How To Be A Presentation God even embraces the cartoon idea, because that’s what these decks are. They’re not presentations.

One entry, from Jean-François Messier, demonstrates (quite well) how slideuments really don’t work – they are neither documents nor slides, so you should not attempt to create slides which tell the whole story. Yet, ironically, that’s exactly what he created for this SlideShare competition. Which just goes to show that a good entry for the competition is almost certainly not a good set of slides to accompany a presentation.

There is one of these slidedecks which would be a great set of visuals to support a presentation, and that’s the one done by AnaFxFz for Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment talk. That’s because it IS intended to accompany a talk. It doesn’t say everything on its own. So it doesn’t work as a cartoon because it needs the narrative. Yes, I voted for the one deck which doesn’t work properly on SlideShare but which is a real set of presentation visuals. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Ana wins! Take a look at her great deck here.

I don’t blame the others who have created fine slidedecks knowing there would be no audio, and some are very good (I particularly like the ones by Jon Thomas and Ed Fidgeon Kavanagh) – they’re just following the rules and using this cartoon-type medium as well as anyone.

I just think there’s something missing. If part of the problem with corporate communication is that the slides have become the presentation, SlideShare is simply perpetuating that problem by providing a platform which allows people to share standalone slidedecks without audio (although they do provide the audio option, it’s rarely used). This contest, and its name in particular, really doesn’t help. I wouldn’t mind if they called it “The World’s Best Slidedeck Competition”.

CONCLUSION – DEATH BY (PRETTY) POWERPOINT

It’s good that many people are starting to realise that slides can look great, and SlideShare deserves some credit for helping that movement. Unfortunately, if all it does is convince people to create better-looking slides that still tell the whole story, we’ll just replace Death By PowerPoint with Death By Pretty PowerPoint.

For their next contest, I call on SlideShare to run two competitions: one for slidedecks if they must (and call it “Best Slidedeck Competition”), and another one for Best Presentation but which requires an audio track, and makes great use of visuals to enhance the spoken messages (like this). That’s a contest I would support, and one I would probably even enter. This year, you’ll just have to look at other people’s cartoons – and Ana’s masterpiece. If she wins, at least San Francisco will be able to claim a true world title…


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