The era of the PowerPoint presentation is over

Serial entrepreneur Luke Johnson says presentations are sliding into oblivion as audiences demand interaction and get fed up of technical terms and clich├ęs.

by Luke Johnson
Last Updated: 02 Apr 2013

I think the era of the PowerPoint presentation is over. Now no one wants to sit in a business meeting and listen to someone lecturing at length, accompanied by a series of slides.

Perhaps people never did. This generation demands interaction and participation. Lengthy, transmit-only monologues are dead.

One reads that audiences used to stand in the rain and listen to two-hour speeches by great orators like Gladstone. That level of sustained and deferential attention from a crowd is history.

This is why the TED talks are successful. To be relevant to listeners in the 21st century you need to incorporate their input. Often, I'm asked to give speeches and told to talk for 30 minutes. I always tell the organisers of such events that actually the attendees really only want at most 10 minutes from me - and then they want to ask questions and join in a discussion.

There are advantages to this new model of public speaking. It means audiences have to work harder - they cannot just sit back and doze. It is far more democratic. And speakers cannot minutely prepare their script - because they will be asked unexpected questions and will have to provide unrehearsed answers.

This means the content will be less likely to be edited by the PR department - and so probably will be more revealing.

Moreover, presentations using programmes such as PowerPoint tend to be stultifyingly technical and full of cliches, and they are frequently cut-and-paste jobs from the web.

Off-the-cuff responses during a Q&A session are probably much more honest and personal.

This trend doesn't apply only to the corporate conference circuit. I believe traditional lectures in an educational context are similarly out of date. Instead, professors and teachers must actively engage with their students - in the room but also electronically, using video and websites as part of any teaching session.

Indeed, I think even classic linear entertainment like the 90-minute film may have to change.

The extraordinary Harlem Shake phenomenon suggests the old relationship between movie and TV producers and audiences is starting to crumble.

Hundreds of thousands of unpaid citizens have been making their own short clips of the song for fun and posting them on YouTube. This has exploded globally in a matter of weeks.

The old-school Hollywood studios don't understand what is going on. But thanks to cheap technology, now everyone can make a little film and show it to the world.

The same involvement is happening with newspapers, magazines, radio and even books. We are all creators and part of the action.

Be it a pitch, a documentary or an article - this is the age of feedback and partnership. Authors, performers, directors, politicians, promoters and presenters who fail to realise this may soon be unemployed.

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One of the great advantages of digital start-ups is that they can experiment with a website quickly and at low cost.

If it doesn't work, they just take it down and try again. With physical retailers, such pilot ventures are much more complex, because shop leases tend to be longer-term commitments, involving complex negotiations, hefty fees, rental deposits and the need for a decent covenant.

However, the advent of pop-up shops has changed all that. Now all sorts of designers, artists and fledgling craft businesses are opening temporary outlets to test the market.

The rise in vacant retail sites in many towns means a lot of high streets have empty stores with landlords who are more flexible about the types of tenancy they will grant.

At StartUp Britain, a social enterprise I chair, we have jumped on the bandwagon and initiated Pop Up Britain to help the cause. We are working with councils and our local champions all over the country to try to identify properties that can be used by entrepreneurs who want to give their business idea a go.

The whole concept is to do each project on a shoestring and see if it generates sufficient revenue and interest for the owner to take the venture to the next stage. We've drafted standard lease terms to speed up the process and cut costs. We just need volunteers to take the plunge - both property owners who can't let their space and adventurers who want to run their own show. Anyone interested should visit the Start Up Britain website.

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I think one of the contributors to the great horsemeat scandal is the rise of procurement as a powerful force within the world of business. In almost any sphere, purchasing officers now wield huge sway - be it spending on components, ingredients, advertising, technology or goods for resale.

Generally, such departments know little about the underlying quality of what they are buying. They focus almost purely on price - to the exclusion of supplier relationships or any issues that cannot be counted in financial terms.

Online reverse auctions are frequently standard policy for many large firms when placing orders. Lowest cost is the only criterion.

But, in my experience, loyalty, reliability, integrity and other intangibles are at least as important as cost when selecting key partners. One of my firms works closely with Waitrose, which tends to take a more balanced approach to its suppliers. It realises that everyone in the supply chain must make a reasonable living, otherwise corners are cut and the system risks breakdown.

I hope the recent problems of adulteration are leading to a reappraisal of priorities by many players in the food industry. Provenance and authenticity are becoming more important to customers - and the retailers are surely taking note.

Luke Johnson is chairman of Risk Capital Partners. This diary appeared in the April edition of MT.

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