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Handouts can set you free

BoeingLast week I gave a presentation for ACCJ at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Osaka. A great event. Wonderful people. During the seminar, the issue was raised of how text-heavy PowerPoint slides often conceal, obscure, and even hide — intentionally or not — important information. An often-quoted sample is the Boeing slide featured here (click to enlarge). In this slide, important information is there but easily missed. This particular slide, and others like it, were used as a handout for one-to-one reading. My point — (Edward Tufte first discussed this in the "Cognitive Style of PowerPoint") — was that using PowerPoint like this for handouts makes it too easy to unintentionally obscure important information or imply an unintended meaning due to the often encryptic nature of bullet points. The best presenters hardly use text at all in their slides, so a simple printout of their slides too will be of little use by themselves. Some people wondered if a document (rather than printed slides) wouldn't be an even "better" or more "diabolical" way to bury information deep in reams of text. If so, what is wrong with printed slides? The difference is intent. Yes, you could easily camouflage and obfuscate information in, say, a 15-page handout if that was your intent. For example, you could write the document poorly, illogically, choose a type size that is too small, etc. But if our intention is for clarity and expanded detail, and we do a careful job of writing and editing, then compared to a printout of slides, a written handout is far less likely to be misunderstood without our physical presence. People can sit down and read our handout. Printed slides are something people often "go through" and try to decipher (guess?) the meaning. 121_3A written document is a different animal completely. A document is something designed to be read by one person at a time. You are "telling your story" with the written word. Logic and clarity with the written word are paramount. Slides, on the other hand, are meant to display visual information to many people at the same time for the purpose of supporting and illuminating the logic and clarity that is coming from *your spoken word*. The slides are not meant to tell the story without you there. A good document, complete with text and graphics, is indeed designed to tell your story (often with even more detail and depth) without you there. (FYI: The slide on the right appears when I speak on this issue during some seminars. The aspect ratio of the PPT slide is designed for visuals — no coincidence, then, that a full bleed video image fits perfectly within a PPT frame and most TVs ).


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