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Razzle Dazzle Them

Once upon a time not so long ago, there was a little boy who went to the market to try to sell his wares. He wasn't having any luck. "Who will buy my sweet red roses? Two blooms for a penny," he sang out hauntingly.

A young man came along, full of soft-spoken enthusiasm. "I can give you a great tool that will help you sell your roses. I can design this fabulous new application to help you get your message across. I can give you templates, hundreds of pretty clipart. You can create your presentations in blazingly brilliant colours with glorious animation. I can?"

"But, sir (kind knighted sir), they're only roses?"

"Ah, don't you see. What you need are pretty pictures, snappy words. Then, you can sell anything." The young man started singing, "If you give them a bit of the razzle dazzle. Razzle dazzle them. You've got to razzle dazzle them. Today the roses, tomorrow the world!"

And so marked the birth of slide show presentation software. (Sorry, guys. That was just a bit of unconfirmed rumour).

What is true, however, is how much slide show presentation software such as PowerPoint has revolutionised the business world. Company forecasts are now disseminated in presentations (complete with video clip, animation and sound). Staff meetings are run in slide shows. Project status meetings are driven by presentation slides. Even courtesy signs are printed using presentation software. You know the ones I mean: "Please Ensure You Have Flushed Before You Leave!" on the toilet doors and "Please clean up after yourself. Your mother does NOT work here!" over the kitchen sinks.

I confess. I have cultivated a doomed PowerPoint dependency over time. I've spent countless hours tinkering with the graphics, experimenting with 100 shades of blue and resizing 500 different tiny icons until they were the identical size. More tragically, I've worked into the dead of the night typing, deleting and retyping to come up with just the right word ? one that's concise, punchy and easy on the eye. Commenced?no. On track?oooh. Ahead of schedule?hmm. Completed? YES! After all, "Preliminary high-level design specifications ? Completed" is easier on the eye than "Design Specification ? Commenced".

One of my corporate-ignoramis friends was not so convinced. According to her, if presentation software really was the greatest thing since sliced bread, then one must be able to do a lot more with the application. It must become an indispensable part of modern civilisation. She set me a challenge, which I accepted (all too hastily). It meant that last weekend, armed with my laptop and my all-in-one scanner-printer-copier, I made the following five things for home:

  • I-made-it-myself I-love-you Valentines card

  • A well-done-for-coming-second-last certificate of achievement for niece

  • 20 copies of my-own-original-recipes booklet for Christmas presents

  • My whole-life mission statement

  • 10 inspirational posters to stick on the bathroom mirror, kitchen wall, toilet door?

    The same day I presented my 9-year-old niece with her "certificate of achievement", she thanked me with her own presentation for me (and a very pretty and professional looking one at that). The feature slide looked like this:

    Why I deserve a NEW PC:

  • Everyone else has a newer PC

  • Kerry's parents have just bought her a new PC

  • Even Kerry's little brother has a better PC

  • I'll do my homework on it

  • I'll really use it?I'll even make slide shows with it!!

    It got me thinking. Somewhere along the line, we have turned everything into presentations and slides shows as though every piece of communication is a sales pitch. I suppose I'm not intrinsically against the presentation software. After all, it is just a tool ? not the Devil incarnate. It is us, the intelligent users, who control the quality of our communication (with or without the aid of the presentation software). Quality comes from following the fundamentals like: keep the presentation points to the point, don't bore the audience, don't read from the slide, avoid excessive jargon, don't dumb down the actual speech and, most of all, content matters.

    The folly lies in the well-intentioned experimenters who insist on cramming the page with either whiz-bang animations or smearing the page with linguistic tripe. Whoosh, another bullet point shoots across the page. Whoosh, I've forgotten what the presenter just said.

    So, let's make a pact that we shall never bore each other with show-and-tell-a-thons. We shall never try to bamboozle each other with impressive looking slides. We shall never swamp presentations with meaningless graphics or management-speak jargons. We cannot let a piece of software get the better of us.

    In the mean time, I can't wait for the introduction of the 'Resume Template'. Perhaps it will come in Productivity Service Pack 143.

    About The Author

    Nancy Huang works as a business consultant and project manager. She enjoys writing in her spare time and is keen to be write on demand and be more widely published.

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