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September 2016

PowerPoint On a Crash Diet And More Language Absurdity

Hello once again. Sorry to have missed the month of August, but I’ve been teaching writing classes in DC, where whatever’s causing the more-intense-than-usual, sauna-like heat and humidity made me particularly happy to get back to what we call the RMDs (real Maine days) of summer. What’s more, the corn I planted in June is downright sweet and succulent, perhaps thanks to the two-week drought that concentrated the sugar content. That last bit has nothing to do with this newsletter. I just like to brag about my corn, a hybrid named “Bodacious.”

Anyway, to the matter of workplace and business communications. Reacting to my latest PowerPoint diatribe a few months ago, a reader and old friend from my Business Week days named Howard Gleckman described a smart technique when he does presentations on caring for aging parents (see for a useful book):

"I've set a goal for myself. Never more than six slides. Only pictures -- cartoons/photos/tables/charts, etc). No words. Seems to satisfy those who demand PPTs. Makes me and everyone else very happy."

You gotta love it. Throw up a cartoon that gets your audience chuckling and relaxing and helps set your theme. Then follow up with photos to illustrate a point and tables that demonstrate growth, losses, efficiencies, goals, you name it. In between, you could put your logo up there as a subtle marketing move.

Another reader, Fred Cheney, who’s done writing instruction and student assessments, admits to "going back and forth on Power Point." He also appreciates what I’ve said about stimulating a conversation (be a "guide on the side," not a "sage on the stage"), but notes that "if your client specifically wants the group to learn A, B, C, D, and E, and the time is limited, you can’t always afford the chaos and serendipity of conversation." His point is well taken, although I always hand out detailed "takeaway sheets" covering points worth remembering.

He also said this, which applies to PowerPoint or "anything with a heavy content load:" "I like to take two or three three-minute writing breaks. People can commit to writing down what they’ve learned, or pose a question." Establish that pattern and your audience will pay more attention to what you say, PowerPoint or no PowerPoint. Then, when you ask them to read what they’ve written out loud, you set the pattern for a useful conversation. And believe me, a lot of learning takes place in that back-and-forth that wouldn’t happen if I just stood there and lectured.

Finally, another month and another bit of silly, copycat, unimaginative, lazy "wordsmithing." By now, we’ve all heard the cable TV chattering class pontificate mindlessly about the "optics" of a political event or press conference or bright orange hairdo or schmoozing with the voters in a diner.

Now here’s the Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia definition of optics:

"Optics is the branch of physics that involves the behavior and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behavior of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light."

Enough said.

Take care.