By Winslow Swart
It was 3:05 PM when I got the call. The Human Resources Director seemed to be controlling her emotions as she described vacant stares on faces in a room full of supervisors. When I arrived 15 minutes later, I saw the beam of illuminated dust streaming across the room. Rays of the LCD projector made their way lazily towards the high-gain screen with small flashing text, “no input detected.”
20 employees stared-off into middle distance, as if in a trance. A few sat hunched over, the glow of iPhones casting eerie shadows. “How long have they been like this?” I asked. “We’re not really sure,” the HR generalist answered, “40 minutes, maybe?” “Ok, show’s over,” I yelled, “break-time, there’s nothing to see here.”
Within just 30 seconds the room was empty, save for myself and the HR team.
They were looking down at the floor, fidgeting. “I don’t understand it. We worked so hard…creating an exciting presentation. The graphics, the animations, font sizes, rehearsing every word…” explained the generalist. “Yes, and it wasn’t even a compliance or ethics presentation,” added the HR Director, “it was all about employee benefits!”
I pressed-on, “How long was the presentation?”
“An hour and a half,” admitted the client.
“How many slides?”
“About 62, no…72, I think.”
“Did you read everything that was on each slide?”
“Why yes of course!” she stammered, “but there were special effects, animations…I just don’t
understand…(sobs) …we prepared so hard!”
“Um….hunh…” more pressure from the business sleuth, “have you tried conducting sessions without using power-point?”
“Last month, one of our team leaders conducted a session using key-note,” answered the HR
generalist cheerfully, “he works on a Mac. Oh, and there was the time we tried Prezi…but it
made everyone dizzy.”
“I noticed your business card says, ‘employee engagement manager.’ Let’s focus on the meaning of the term engagement, as it relates to training. What word would you use to describe the effect on employees in this afternoon’s session?”
“Dis-engagement?” answered the HR director – you could almost see the light go on.
“Exactly. And what would the opposite of that look like?”
“People talking, interacting, asking questions, presenting ideas?”
“…innovating, creating, collaborating…”
“Now you’ve got it!”
“Wow! That was easier than I thought!”
“Uh, not so fast. Now you have to design training that does all of those things.”
“I’m ready. But, what happens if we fail?” continued the HR director.
“If you focus more on participant engagement than on presentation skills, the sessions will be fun and memorable. People might not remember what you said, but they will remember what they did!”
How often have you sat through a droll power-point presentation, only to spend most of that time responding to e-mails and returning text messages? Diming the lights in a room and projecting slides on a screen while reading bullet points is a dissemination mode that experts agree is passive and antithetical to learning. Certainly, nothing transformative can hope to be accomplished.
Adult learning, by definition, should be andragogic. Effective adult learning is co-learning, not pedagogic or pedantic. Teaching at adult learners doesn’t work. Try learning with your audiences, your presentations will be a lot more fun and much more successful.
Winslow Swart is Chief Inspiration Officer at Winslow Consulting, The Business of Human Performance.
Originally printed in the San Antonio Express-News, Tuesday, May 8, 2012.
Death By Powerpoint, A Tale of Serious Business
By Winslow Swart
It was 3:05 PM when I got the call. The Human Resources Director seemed to be controlling her emotions as she described vacant stares on faces in a room full of supervisors. When I arr