"Communication is the transfer of emotion," writes Seth Godin in "Really Bad Powerpoint."
Communication is about getting others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand why you’re excited (or sad, or optimistic or whatever else you are.) If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.
Seth lays down the law: No more than six words per presentation slide. No cheesy images. No sound effects that came with the program (rip and burn your own, he says). And no bullets ever.
This is Seth Godin talking, the bald, oracular marketing guru who commands huge speaking fees (I've attended one of his presentations; Seth does Really Good PowerPoint) and is quoted fawningly all over the blogosphere. When Seth talks, business leaders snap to attention and salute. But will a lecture from Seth change their pathetic PowerPointing habits? Not a damn chance. They're too scared, too ovine, too unimaginative. And too unlikely to team up with the very people who might save their reputations: writers and designers.
Here's an example of how PowerPoint might be done brilliantly. VidLit isn't strictly a presentation format; it's a book-marketing medium. Company founder Liz Dubelman spent ten years in film and television production and got the idea for VidLit while listening to This American Life, the National Public Radio program that's been described as "like movies for radio." VidLit is like music videos for books. Dubelman and her crew record authors reading snippets of their work and add original music and Flash animation to create, in Dubelman's deadpan words, "a compelling new form of entertainment." Her first creation was her own short-short story, Craziest, about her Scrabble obsession. She became briefly famous when a VidLit (or YidLit) for Yiddish with Dick and Jane attracted so much attention that she and the book's publisher were sued by the publisher of the original Dick and Jane books. Nothing like a lawsuit to fire up the fame engines. Now playing on the VidLit site are clever little teasers for The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit, by Lois Beckwith; Don't Get Too Comfortable, by "This American Life" regular David Rakoff; and--my current favorite--Consider the Lobster, by David Foster Wallace. And many, many others.
So what can corporate presenters learn from VidLit? Plenty. Notice how the images in a VidLit don't politely mirror the words being spoken. They play peekaboo with the words, tweak their noses, run circles around them. Notice how the soundtrack creates an instant "going-to-the-movies" vibe. (Hey, this isn't a meeting--it's entertainment!) Notice how the narrators never say "um," or "let's see if this thing is working." And notice how you feel after you've watched a VidLit. Yep. It's a "transfer of emotion."