Embedded World and the death of the PowerPoint presentation - Embedded.com

Embedded World and the death of the PowerPoint presentation

It's been a very busy month. Most of the Europeans were at or were represented at Embedded World in Nuremberg the first week of March. Many US and international players were also there. It is the largest European embedded show and at the same time at the other end of Germany, attracting all the mainstream press, was Cebit, the digital IT and telecommunications

Feelings at Embedded World were that the show was smaller with fewer people than last year, though in fact there were more booths (up 4%) and more visitors (up 16%)! So I put that down to better organisation and flow of visitors. Overall, the show was very upbeat and I got the comment that there were “more buyers than lookers.”

I did some poking around to see if this was just bravado and bluff. But as best I can see, things really are looking up. Most of the suppliers were reporting a good Q1 “so far” and this reflects the view from my own company and a few others I know who give me accurate indications.

The market has changed in the UK and Europe. However, I think it is evolution not revolution. Companies always come and go it is just that 2009 accentuated the process. The problem is that economics is no respecter of calendars so I expect to see some more “evolution” in 2010.

This evolution is affecting many areas of the industry, including the shows. The ESC UK event, now called Embedded Live, is changing location and format which should generate new interest.

Another show, in mid-May in the UK, that has done a bit of “revolution” as much as evolution is the Embedded-MasterClass. With new sponsors for 2010 it has taken the interesting step of banning PowerPoint presentations in the conference! The reasons for this are multiple and they are not just confined to Embedded-Masterclass but affect most conferences, and indeed anyone who has to do presentations.

Firstly, we have the tendency for some companies to send along someone from marketing or “technical sales” (a rose by any other name.) to push out the corporate presentation and in some cases blatant product pitches. There is a class of company that insists that any company presentation must contain a set of corporate profile slides, who we are, where we are, how profitable and how many people we employ. Essential information for a takeover or share dealing, but of no relevance to an engineer or project manager. It has been this way for a couple of decades and since 2008, when banks and global corporations could disappear almost overnight and small start-ups can hold key technologies, there is no relevance at all.

The close relative of the Corporate Overview Introduction is the semi blatant product pitch dressed up as a technical presentation. Despite what marketing people think, both the corporate and product style of a presentation is actually counterproductive at a conference. To be honest, the corporate part is not much use at a sales meeting either. I have seen these sorts of presentation significantly contribute to the demise of an annual conference. The delegates would not come back to a conference that had a significant proportion of this sort of presentation. The “significant” number being two.The next problem with PowerPoint is the “here is one I prepared earlier” syndrome. There are two points here. The first is where the speaker receives the Company Presentation a day or two (if they are lucky) before the event and just reads it. It is not their presentation. We have all seen the odd occasion where intended speaker is not able to attend due to external problems and someone else presents on their behalf. However, there have been far too many incidents where a company wants to be speaking at a conference and then for marketing/logistical reasons, puts up “speaker A” who is local and emails over “The Approved Company Presentation” on the topic. The local person then has to present it. If they are lucky, they can tweak it or even get notes to go with the presentation. They may not even fully understand or be conversant with the content of the presentation.

The second problem is that it is far too easy to reuse an older presentation with a minor tweak. I always do a fresh presentation for each conference. However, there are times when you can do the same one for different audiences and I have been asked to do a particular presentation four times to different groups. The trouble is when you have a “standard” presentation for the year and every conference gets the same one even if it is with different presenters, none of whom may actually have written it.

In my case, for the one I presented four times, whilst I have had the same set of slides, the actual presentation differed in content to suit the audience. In two cases, the person who invited me to repeat the presentation for his group commented on the fact the presentation had changed.

This leads to another point: Don't read the slides! Unless you are presenting to a visually impaired group, the audience will be able to read the slides you put up. You don't need to read them verbatim, though I know we have all been to presentations where someone has done that. In any case the slides should be bullet points and you talk around those points.

Note that a picture is worth a thousand words yet some people try to put those words on one slide rather than a picture. Guidelines for presentations vary as to how many lines of text and how many words per slide. The point is, keep it short!. I have seen presentations where all the slides looked like pages from a novel. Line after line of text, the audience is not going to read it let alone remember it. They will probably have lost interest by slide three and be doodling to email on their phones. There will always be the odd exception where you need to put up a lot of text and quote it verbatim, but these occasions should be very rare.

The Embedded MasterClass has decided to stop all this by saying “No PowerPoints.” Their premise is that it will stop the problems and that good presenters should be able to use a flip chart (A2 size pad) and a whiteboard to present a subject they know, understand, and have enthusiasm for. Many of the best presenters I know do like to have a white board or flip chart to compliment a PowerPoint. It helps for impromptu explanations and the like when there are questions or something new springs to mind.

Will a ban on power points work? Will they relent and let PowerPoints in? I don't know, but it has caused everyone to stop and think about content, who will present, and how they will do it.

With no PowerPoint, you have draw your own diagrams and write your own bullet points. This will change what you can do. It will show up those just reading a script or are marketing people from the real technical people who know their subject.

In a couple of months, I will tell you how it went but I would be interested to hear anyone's thoughts on Death by Power Point and any interesting presentations they have been in, and those they wish they hadn't.

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