Earlier this week I called one Mr. Abhisek Sarda in Goa.
“Hello Abhishek,” I said on the phone as is the trend these days, “so you run a company in Goa?”
“And this company does nothing, but make presentations for corporate clients?”
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Now I don’t have to tell you that few things are as abhorrent to this columnist as presentations. It is because of a deeply ingrained life-long hate for PowerPoint presentations that your columnist is columnist-ing.
Instead, I could have been working for some global management-consulting firm as a senior partner, while simultaneously making extra money on the side leaking insider information to hedge fund managers in New York.
Alas! at the mere mention of a PowerPoint slide I go into anaphylactic shock and begin spasming like a phone vibrating on a glass coffee table.
Yet, here was a man who is wasting a life in Goa making slides. (I have been to Goa only once. But I have no real memory of that trip. Wink. Substance abuse. Nudge. Israeli beauty queen. Wink.)
“I see. Two questions. One: Why do you do this for a living? Two: Did this idea occur right after something heavy fell on you in the cranial region?”
Sarda patiently explained to me his rationale. The inspiration, he said, came from sitting through terrible presentations four or five years ago. “I realized that people are just so insensitive to design or aesthetics,” said Sarda. (This was way back when Sarda was working for a company that made, among other things, handmade soaps.)
In many of these presentations, Sarda explained, slides were just massive chunks of text copied and pasted from reports. “What these companies usually do is make some poor intern make the first draft, and then make change after painful change till a compromise is reached.”
The most disturbing presentation your columnist has ever seen was in business school when a group was asked to speak on agriculture policy. The presentation started flamboyantly enough, with pictures bubbling water from a motor, and toothless farmers holding up grain in the palms of his hands and so on. And then suddenly, without warning, an animated tractor rolled across the screen slowly from left to right.
And then it went from left to right. And then top to bottom. And then every few minutes this little tractor would traverse the screen at randomized angles and directions.
One of the presenters had imprudently thought that this little touch would give the presentation a more realistic, agricultural feel.
In the years since, like all of us, I too have seen presentations with the entire text of War and Peace on one slide. Not to mention enormous bar charts designed using the “explosion during Benetton photo shoot” colour scheme.
I recounted the animated tractor incident to Sarda. And then he called me two days later after he had recovered.
Sarda says he wants to make presentations enjoyable. “We don’t use PowerPoint at all. Or any of the tools or cliparts that come with it. Instead we try to use good design, layouts and typography. The idea is to use classical principles of visual communication.”
One simple approach, he says, is to think of each slide as a poster.
I think Sarda has a point there. I have found few examples of visual communication in my life more compelling than those signs around Mumbai consisting of just two elements: the word “Beanbags” and then a telephone number.
Even if I don’t want a beanbag, even if I already have a beanbag that, for years, is being used as a receptacle for washed clothing that await ironing…still I find my hands automatically moving towards my phone when I see beanbags!
Why is that beanbag fellow not giving lectures at Harvard along with the dabbawallahs?
Sarda admits that his company, PPT Salon, almost always deals with external presentations made to people outside the organization. “Nobody wants to spend any money on internal presentations,” said Sarda with a tone of resignation in his voice.
Still Sarda was kind enough to share some of his tips with Cubiclenama readers. For the intrepid fresh MBA or tortured summer intern slumped in front of a PowerPoint slide as empty as their souls, these are Sarda’s top 5 tips for a better presentation:
1. Don’t put everything you want to say on the slide. Use a headline to emphasise a point. Speak the rest.
2. Never use a template. Ever. If the company has an official template, quit the company.
3. Choose a typeface each time based on the content. Don’t use the defaults or Tahoma always.
4. Choose bold, shocking images. Not the same four foreigners in formals smiling at the camera like serial killers.
5. Only say a few things. If you have too much to say, use multiple presentations.
Have a good weekend. I am off to buy a beanbag.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org