Mankind has come a long way since our tribal villages and hunting parties. Back then we had great skills in hunting, making tools, navigating and avoiding being eaten.
Nowadays we’re a bunch of useless lunks who can’t do any of that. Sure, our forefathers would have had no idea how to tweet with an iPhone or use a Dual Shock controller, but back then there were more important things to worry about. Come to think of it, there are now.
Sadly as a species we are becoming victims of our own technological advances. While the collective knowledge of mankind is continually making amazing strides – biotech, nanotechnology, astrophysics etc – the individual knowledge of each human is growing in the wrong direction.
How many of us can actually catch, kill, prepare and cook an animal? I know I couldn’t, and frankly I wouldn’t want to. My children might have great trouble navigating since they’re growing up with GPS as the norm, and they might be lost without it. And as for avoiding being eaten, which is one of those important skills, most of us live in such well-protected places without predators that we’d be in real trouble if we found ourselves lost in the jungle. Our smartphones wouldn’t be much use then.
The more we use technology, the more we depend on it. I now type far more quickly than I write, and could not imagine having to handwrite an essay or dissertation, whereas when I was at university in the early 90s, they were only just beginning to accept anything typewritten.
Many youngsters have real trouble with basic maths unless they have a calculator or Excel to do it for them. Yet more tech dependency.
What’s this doing on a blog about presentations? It’s a follow-up to my post earlier today about how slideware apps have killed presentations. It’s simply another case of humans becoming so dependent on technology – in this case, PowerPoint or Keynote – that they are unable to do without it.
It’s therefore not an isolated issue. It’s not a trivial one either. A whole generation is growing up thinking that a corporate presentation involves at least one slide every three minutes, with plenty of detail in the bullet-points so that people can understand even if they are not listening or if they are receiving the file later. They think the file IS the presentation. This is the received wisdom, and the slideware makes it very easy to prepare slides like that.
I recently saw an example of this dependency, when a sales manager was due to make a presentation. The message didn’t really need slides. However, the sales manager did. With the various tech problems, he used 10 of his 15 minutes in trying to get the slides up. He could have finished what he had to say in that time, but he stubbornly refused to start without his slides. Which turned out to be useless. He made a complete fool of himself and didn’t get his message across at all. If only he had felt confident and prepared enough to speak without his PowerPoint crutch.
It’s urgent that we do something about this. Sadly they don’t teach presentation skills at school or college, although they should. It’s one of those vital professional competencies which every knowledge worker needs (and especially a sales manager!). What are we going to do about this?
Make a resolution today. If you haven’t followed a training course on presentation skills recently, sign up for one. If you are a manager, get your people to follow a good course. They will thank you for it, and they’ll be far more productive. Buy yourself and your team some inspiring books like Presentation Zen or Slide:Ology. It’s a small investment for a big return.
And lastly, set yourself and your team a challenge: make your next presentation without any slides. You might get a little ‘cold turkey’ the first time. That’s normal. But it’s worth it. Soon you’ll realise that most of your slides don’t support your message – they are a barrier between you and your audience. Break down that barrier, and communicate – really and truly.
Later when you get your PowerPoint back, you’ll be far less tempted to create slides for the sake of slides. There’s nothing wrong with a graph here or a meaningful statistic there, just as there’s nothing wrong with using GPS as long as you still know how to use a compass and read a map. Master the technology – don’t depend on it.