Presentations Without PowerPoint

Lulworth Cove, Dorset, England

I remember "Old School".

As a child at school in the 1960's, teachers wrote with chalk on a blackboard. As a schoolteacher myself in about 1980, I used an overhead projector and I'm surprised they are still available today.

When dealing with any technology, albeit at its most basic, it is always as well to keep in mind Finagle's primary law of Dynamic Negatives. This states that:

Anything that can go wrong, will
-         at the worst possible moment,
-         in the worst possible way.

I was at a three-day technical conference in the early 2000's: it had cost me several thousand pounds in flights and accommodation plus the conference fee, along with lost income. In a one-hour optional demo session, the presenter's laptop would not boot up. In addition to all the expenses I had had, they would also have spent many hours preparing for their demonstration, and most probably paid a fee to have the room booked plus advertised in the conference guide too. Then "poof!" All their time, effort and expense lost in a few minutes as Finagle's Law manifested itself.

In 2019 I gave a presentation on "Publishing a LinkedIn Article" to the local branch of a group for small businesses. My laptop would not connect to the screen: the venue tried using multiple cables. The venue manager lent me their laptop, as I had the PowerPoint presentation on a memory stick too. Their laptop would not connect either. I gave the presentation reading from a printed copy of the PowerPoint: this was my "Plan C". Overall, that was not a good experience for anybody.

Later the same year a presentation at a seminar went south. The organisers requirement was for them to be provided with a PowerPoint file, not a PDF, but the laptop used did not have the font I was using. The result was a messy layout on-screen, which threw off my performance. The feedback comment I remember the most was "he was giving somebody else's presentation".  For the organisers, the downside is that an audience will rate their overall seminar experience weighted far more by the worst presentation than either the best, or some sort of overall average.

These two bad experiences put me off doing any further presentations. I then thought this through and decided to go "old school". I bought a flipchart plus the pens.

The next presentation I gave, in early 2020, was to an audience of satellite technology specialists. Using the flipchart approach went very well. One attendee took photos of the pages as an aide memoire. It was they who had used the phrase "old school", as I set up for the presentation.

Covid lockdown happened before my next booked presentation. It was several months before I could do another presentation. In August 2020, the Covid restrictions allowed an outdoor 'performance' to a limited audience. As a proof of concept, it was a success, using the flipchart. This could not have been done with a PowerPoint presentation, at least not on my budget. I wrote a blog "Al Fresco Training" based on the experience. Getting suitable venues proved to be the sticking point on further outside events during the remaining autumn weeks.

Covid restrictions continued to prevent presentations during most of 2021, and the lull between Delta & Omicron, once school summer holidays were considered, was not enough to gain traction. When the Covid case numbers started to fall in January 2022, thoughts of presentations returned, but potential audiences were still sceptical. I'm waiting to see how case numbers, and more importantly sentiment changes, following the lifting of all restrictions in England in the last full week of February.

For an upcoming presentation in May, "The Problem with Problems", at The Service Desk & IT Support Show, I will need to use projected content again. The organisers pointed out that people at the back of the theatre would not be able to see the flipchart. Yes, I'm a little apprehensive, but by planning for all the eventualities I can think of, I am hoping that Finagle's Law will be kept at bay.

The moral of the story is to learn from mistakes and mis-steps: the mistakes of other people may be preferable, but we need specially to take ownership of the mistakes we make ourselves.

Are you reticent or happy to mention mistakes in your business narrative? Storyteller Katherine Ledger poses the question in her poll. Participate in or read the results here:


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