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Presentations as Conversation

As a result of running through several PowerPoint presentations in the last month, I discovered a positive effect from them. Even if we only made it two slides through the presentation, it was enough to start a conversation.

I am in the midst of visiting several of Trolltech’s offices, meeting some of our prospective customers, talking about Qtopia, and our professional services. I’m relatively new to the company, so I am still using presentations handed down from others. These do not conform to the Presentation Zen school of thought, and can be rather dry.

My concern was that by showing the presentations, we would be wasting time, and even putting people to sleep. As a consultant, starting a discussion is more important than purely presenting. The risk of running a presentation is that people turn their minds off and simply follow what is being simplified through PowerPoint (well, OpenOffice’s Impress).

What I found is that the act of presenting can assist in starting a conversation, rather than kill it off. The act of presenting set clear roles for the people in the room (usually 5-10). This tended to encourage discussion, with the slides acting as markers for the topics to be discussed. Part of this is timing - knowing when to use a presentation, and part of it is style - allowing participants to feel involved and to feel safe in asking questions.

In one particular case, we were getting no where, started a presentation, made it two slides in, and had enough to talk about to cover two hours of sharing between all involved.

My previous skepticism about having some presentations as a back up is evaporating. My aim will be an initial conversational style, but it is useful to have another way to get everyone talking.