I’m currently writing some serious business content for a company that has many, many PowerPoint presentations about its ideas.
I want to be clear here. This is not a complaint. The ideas are good. The slides are good. And I am certain that the people delivering the presentations were effective in persuading their audiences about the ideas in them.
But I’ve become uncomfortably aware of the gap between slideware and clearly written content.
What slideware does
I’ve delivered many decks of slides, some in speeches that got very high audience ratings. Slideware does some things very well:
- It holds an audiences attention with clever, and sometimes information-rich, graphics.
- It presents ideas in a logical order.
- It keeps people engaged while you speak.
- It enables easy editing by rearranging, combining, or deleting sets of slides, enabling the same presentation to easily morph for different purposes or different length slots.
- Delivered by a skilled presenter who is paying attention to audience reactions, it enables that presenter to deliver the same presentation and the same ideas with subtle shifts in emphasis or wording that are more likely to engage or persuade the audience.
- It enables adjustments to time availability on the fly — a presenter can go fast in some sections and slower in others, and change which sections they spend time on based on audiences, events, or any other ambient phenomenon.
- It encompasses widely different experiences — a single deck can include text slides, photos, GIFs, charts, animations, and videos. The most entertaining presentations often include such variety.
- It papers over gaps in logic by entertaining audiences with slidecraft — an exercise in sleight of hand.
Text seems stodgy by comparison
The only feature on that list that text shares is the presentation of ideas in a logical order. Text plods along at a steady pace, tied together only by language. It lacks the sexiness of anything presented by a speaker. By all rights it should be clearly inferior.
And yet, text is infinitely flexible. With simple language and punctuation you can make people laugh or cry — or more importantly for my purposes, say “Ah, now I get it.” When one person reads text and shares it with another, the second reader can have the same experience: ideally, the experience that the author intended.
Unattractive, shy, introverted, and antisocial people can still communicate ideas well by text, even if the same people would never feel comfortable in front of an audience. Anyone can write, and anyone can get better at writing simply by practicing and observing audience feedback.
Filling in the missing information
As I have sat down to write from these decks, I have become uncomfortably aware of the gap between what’s in the slides (and speaker notes) and what I need to know to write.
That gap is why one person attempting to give another person’s slides — an experience satirized competitively in the pastime known as PowerPoint karaoke — is often such a cringe-inducing experience.
In my assignment, I am filling that gap. I am interviewing people at the client — they are very smart, and when they answer my questions, I get the knowledge that I need to write a draft. I get more knowledge from filling in details from public sources, and by drawing on my own experiences for content and analogies.
Crucially, I can draft something based on that and get feedback. The company sources describe where I’ve gone astray and fill in more of the gaps that are not there in the slides.
When I am done, I don’t think I will have translated slides into text. I will have created a new version of the company’s ideas, one that I believe will serve them well. And since it will not vary based on who presents it or who reads it, it can become the canonical representation of the company’s ideas. There is value in that.
One more thing.
Good text is easy to distinguish from bad text.
But good slideware and bad slideware can be tough to tell apart.
That may be why text will always be my true love, although I will take a fling with slideware from time to time. Don’t judge me.
Judge my text.