The World’s Best WHAT Contest?

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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24 Responses to The World’s Best WHAT Contest?

  1. Jérôme says:

    It is true that these slidedecks are in no way presentations, but they could turn out as really great presentation with minimal work : get rid of most text, of some slides whose contents will be brought live by the presenter to its audience.

    I might add that the audio track is just one small step towards a truer experience of what a presentation is as the body language would still be lacking.
    A videocast would be another step, but the audience would then be the missing piece : a grea

  2. Jérôme says:

    [Sorry, I misfired my comment]
    … the audience would then be lacking : a great presenter needs to be able to interact with his listeners and every presentation should be different as you’re never addressing the exact same people in the exact same conditions.

  3. Jon Thomas says:

    Phil,

    You know I’m a fellow soldier against bad PowerPoint and the crusade to separate the substitution of “Presentation for “PowerPoint” and vice versa. They’re definitely NOT the same thing.

    I’m sure SlideShare is simply trying to leverage the widespread understanding of what a standard presentation is. While I don’t believe a PowerPoint deck designed exclusively to be embedded in SlideShare and presented on its own are truly “presentations,” I do believe that SlideShare’s contest has unearthed some fantastic slide decks and finally puts effective presentation design on a pedestal. There seems to be nowhere else where PowerPoint presentations are awarded for their merit, at least as publicly as these are.

    It also unfairly penalizes presentations designed correctly – to enhance and accompany a live presenter who is conveying the important information. I had to go out of my comfort zone and add lots of text to make sure my submission could be comprehended on its own.

    Jon Thomas
    Presentation Advisors
    http://www.presentationadvisors.com

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Jon. I fully understand where you’re coming from.

      Your point about having to go out of your comfort zone to make your slides stand alone is exactly what I’m talking about. It goes against the principles of good presentation design to put everything on your slides, so while I’d agree that SlideShare can put attractive slide design on a pedestal, I wouldn’t say that it highlights good presentation design, except in the various videos on the site.

      Your slidedeck was a fantastic use of this medium, and I am sure that your deck – minus a lot of the words – made for a brilliant live presentation. If you uploaded a video of you delivering that presentation, that’s the kind of entry I would vote for in this type of contest.

      Cheers,
      Phil

  4. Interesting post but I completely disagree. These “cartoon” decks that you refer to are just as usable as anything else. In fact, our famous Meet Henry deck (famous for this cartoon approach) is used by me not only online but in formal presentations. There is still a deeper story to be told beyond the visuals. These decks are great online. They are even better when complemented with a speaker. Trust me…I use them all the time.

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Scott, and I don’t mind you disagreeing!

      I hadn’t heard of your doubly famous Meet Henry deck, but I am sure it is great. I also don’t in any way dislike cartoons – in fact I think they are often very effective ways of getting a message across in a presentation, although I would tend to use cartoons with fewer words for a live talk. I once saw a brilliant cartoon-based presentation given by Bruce Dahlgren of HP’s Imaging & Printing Group, which was an extremely effective way of illustrating how office printing can be optimized. So I don’t doubt a fine speaker such as yourself can make cartoons come to life.

      I still believe that the audience can’t read and listen at the same time, so it’s vital to keep only a few words on a slide. Your slides struck a fine balance with few words, and I can well believe they would work well with a speaker too. It’s hard for most people to strike that balance. In general, I’d prefer people to learn how to communicate in a live context and to create decks which support their messages, not decks which tell the whole story. In most cases, a good presentation deck would not be a good standalone deck, and vice versa.

      The best presentation I’ve seen recently was Scott Stratten’s TEDx talk. Zero slides. Now if he entered that video in the contest, I’d vote for it with no hesitation. (Scott?)

      Phil

  5. Simon says:

    Indeed! This is why I’ve neither entered or voted. It’s patently just a publicity stunt.

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Simon! Although I appreciate you agreeing with me, I wouldn’t quite take my criticism that far! I don’t see this contest as a publicity stunt, even if it does have that effect for SlideShare, and even if some entrants have used it as an opportunity for self-promotion. It’s a valid competition, but I’d much rather it had a different name or different rules.

      As it stands, allowing slidedecks to be classed as presentations, I wouldn’t participate myself, but at least by voting for Ana, I’m trying to help get a winner which shows the best decks don’t stand alone, and only have a limited role of supporting the speaker – and which might help to get different rules or nomenclature for next time.

      If we got Scott Stratten to enter his slideless TEDx talk, could I persuade you to vote for that?

      Cheers,
      Phil

  6. Nick Smith says:

    It seems to me the problem here is more in the name of the contest, and that it treats all entries as equal when clearly what they’re calling a “presentation” can encompass a wide variety of content. Maybe they should have more categories, or maybe that should just call it the “Best Thing On Our Site” contest. :^)

    In Slideshare’s defense, though, they do allow presenters to upload videos of their presentations if they want. Since that’s the case, we really can only blame the voters for voting for “cartoon” decks as you call them, instead of voting for true presentations.

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Nick!

      I see your point here. I didn’t go through all the hundreds of entries, although I’d hope some of them were videos (the rules permitted videos as well as ‘slidecasts’). But there didn’t seem to be any on the first couple of pages by popularity.

      At least the top ‘presentation’ at the time of writing is Ana’s deck which is a true presentation support rather than a standalone slide-based story. Perhaps the voters got it right anyway.

      But I am still going to try to get Scott Stratten to submit his TEDx video. I think he can get a few hundred votes in a few days. I would love to see his talk win – now that’s a true presentation. And for next year, indeed I hope there will be different categories.

      Phil

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  8. Wow! Thanks so much for the mention in your post Phil! I really appreciate it and I’m honored!

    My thoughts about your post and about Slideshare’s contest: I completely agree with Nick’s comment that Slideshare treats all entries as equals when they clearly aren’t.

    The deck I submitted is indeed just a visual support to the presenter. In fact, I was surprised when Guy K. said I could post the entire deck anywhere I wanted. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise of his audiences, but he explained that his “enchantment” is what would make the presentation special.

    Most decks in the contest are what you call “cartoon-type” decks, which tell the whole story and have too many words and excessive number of slides, and those are definitely not good presentations, although some of them are good stand-alone slides. I personally don’t think that a presentation with 100+ slides is a good presentation.

    To me the Slideshare contest has many flaws. At first, I even questioned their neutrality – they featured only a few contestants on their homepage for a couple of days, while some got a few hours, me included; they also tweeted about a couple of contestants, and I don’t agree with that. But that’s another story.

    Anyway, I think you have valid points in your post, I agree with all of them and have more criticisms of my own regarding this contest, but I also think we are all going to learn from this experience, including the team at Slideshare.

    Thanks again and all the best!
    -Ana

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Ana for the detailed comments. Guy is entirely right that the speaker makes the presentation special. This contest is missing the most important part of any presentation!

  9. Anke Tröder says:

    Important post!

    Presenting means talking to people.

    A slide deck on the web is called a webinar. Or a remote presentation. Or E-learning. Or simply a slide deck on the web.

    Whatever you call it, it follows completely different rules as face to face communication with some visual background music.

    Visulization is story telling in the dark.

  10. Completely agree.

    When I train people in presentations I try and get them to adopt the language of Visual Aid and Handout and to drop Presentation. This clearly distinguishes the two types of document and their completely different purposes.

    Regards
    – Ben

    • Phil Waknell says:

      Thanks Ben. What’s in a name? Like you, I think it’s actually quite important. If people confuse a slidedeck for a presentation (which people do), then a key part of the solution is to make a conscious choice to use different terms to refer to the slides.

      At Ideas on Stage we tend to talk about ‘visuals’ although sometimes like you we use ‘visual aids’. Occasionally ‘slides’. NEVER ‘presentation’.

      I’d hope the people at Slideshare would want to be part of the solution, and not part of perpetuating the problem.

  11. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.

    If a slidedeck is the same thing as a presentation, then a bra is the same thing as breasts.

    :/

    Adam

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