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February 2017

PowerPoint: Absurdity With a Straight Face

Greetings once again. Just when I’m ready to address something in this newsletter other than presentation and briefing skills, I witness an event that defies logical human behavior. I’m sharing it because it shows how PowerPoint has gripped us in such a vise that we, literally in this case, can’t talk without it.

The presenter was smart and articulate, a young lady talking to a large breakfast gathering about her nonprofit. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which nonprofit because I was stunned by what transpired within minutes after we put down our forks and knives, moved our chairs from the tables into a semi-circle facing her and the pull-down screen, and settled back to watch and listen.

But first, as so often happens with the technological crutch of PowerPoint, something didn’t work. Then came the awkward silence while she and one of her clueless hosts bent over her laptop and accomplished…nothing.

What usually transpires here is that the presenter apologizes and begins the narrative, stumbling at first and slowly gaining confidence as both he or she and the audience settle in to a session marked by eye contact and, when things are really clicking, questions that set an almost conversational tone instead of a lecture. And not one soul wishes she was clicking from slide to slide, particularly if she’s got handouts with all the relevant details.

But in this case, she balanced the open laptop backward on one upturned forearm and walked around the inside of the group, giving each of us a small slice of what she had planned to display in a much bigger version. I’ll bet that, given the pace of her sidestepping, not one of us saw more than a single screen.

I’ll say one thing for her. She had the poise to keep talking in a calm, clear voice. And she knew her topic. But did her content leave a lasting impression? Not likely, not when the physical and visible side of her presentation was so wrenchingly off-kilter. And if she was so comfortable with the details that she could keep up her narrative without seeing the screens on her semi-circular ramble, why not just turn the damn thing off, stand up there in front us, and make her case?

I’ve obviously got some of the Luddite in me, but I hope you’ll agree that that was technological addiction in the extreme.

Trump and the Press, Part 2

Now, on to the profession that our Founding Fathers were so careful to protect in the First Amendment to the Constitution, despite the fact that the hyper-partisan press back then feasted on scurrilous lies and cared not a whit about being objective. As a former journalist (Kansas City Star, Business Week, and Penn State faculty), I often run seminars on media relations, particularly as they apply to crisis communications and marketing products and services through the press.

So now we’ve got a president who calls the Fourth Estate the enemy of the people. In a bombastic voice that masquerades as populism, he built a so-far solid “base” lacking, at least in good part, the sense of history that would come with a decent education. They applaud his every smear of the press and delight in taunting the traveling reporters cooped up in a sort of pen at Trump’s rallies.

Well, we’d better get used to his hypocrisy because the cable news channel with the highest ratings is good old Fox, an unabashed propaganda arm for the GOP. I love Barack Obama’s quote: “If I watched Fox, I’d vote against me.” You can be sure Trump won’t call Fox an enemy of the people.

It’s not the world of journalism that I entered in the mid-‘70s, when Watergate and the Pentagon Papers boosted my profession in the public’s eye. But it’s still a calling that thrives on conflict, and Trump’s going to supply plenty of that, if the first weeks of his administration are any indication. Where this will take us I don’t know. But you can be sure about one thing: Donald Trump is in uncharted territory, and he’s not smart or level-headed enough to emerge with anything but yet another black mark on his reputation.

Best wishes.