Insight article

It’s official: “PowerPoint is powerless!”

And by the way, those words aren’t mine, guv. But I am compelled to celebrate some new research that dubs PowerPoint presentations a disaster, doing more to switch off the brain and bore people rigid than to inform, inspire and motivate them.

There’s no doubt that PowerPoint is an incredibly useful tool, used in the right proportions and in the right way. But as a spokesperson from Microsoft says, ‘there is no substitute for being a good communicator’. Indeed, successful employee engagement depends on it.

And this is my point. Speaking at a seminar this week the question was asked if storytelling (and face-to-face communication generally) is becoming redundant with the advent of more electronic, time-saving communication – e-mail, blogs, intranet etc. Ironically, this electronic media is in fact a fertile ground for storytelling, but we still find that people are frustrated by the extent of ‘techie’ communication; the vast majority of internal communicators recognise the need to deliver more in person, and improve the quality of their leaders’ face-to-face communication skills in particular. In fact, we could argue that it’s actually because of electronic media that there is a demand for storytelling and improving communication skills.

Why? Nothing beats human contact. As emotionally-driven human beings, we are wired to respond to it. Think about how information is passed on by a person – the way facial traits, the pace of speech, humour, interaction, warmth and body language can boost its delivery and give it a particular spin. Take Gordon Brown, who has apparently undergone speech training in order to change the delivery of his speeches to make him more popular (I couldn’t possibly comment). And how many of us have received an e-mail, the brusque and blunt tone of which has created a negative interpretation of the message (and sender) which was probably completely unintended?

Time-saving and efficient as it is, electronic communication should balance and act as a supplement to face-to-face communication. It’s hard to engender trust, emotional bonding and respect via e-mail. And yet productivity and the flourishing of communities and social networks within which we live and work depend on this kind of human interaction. I recommend that you read The Machine Stops by E.M Forster – a hugely memorable, somewhat scary short novel written in 1909 – a chilling tale of the control of technology over our lives. Here’s an excerpt – it’s enough to make you switch off your computer for good!

“Then she generated the light, and the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. There were buttons and switches everywhere – buttons to call for food for music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.”

Nailia Tasseel