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Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer is not the only one looking to avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’


As you might have heard, Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer is looking to end the reign of PowerPoint within the company, stopping the ‘death by PowerPoint’ conundrum for his 33,000 staff. 

Speaking to BOSS, Hartzer recently said that one of the biggest dangers facing large organisations is that “people start to think that their job is to create PowerPoints rather than make decisions and improve things for customers.”

And this phenomenon is not in any way unique to Westpac — many here in Australia and all around the world agree with Hartzer that the PowerPoint presentation is the bane of corporate life.

What’s this ‘death by PowerPoint’ you speak of?

Thinking about the ‘death by PowerPoint’ phenomenon, one of the biggest problems with today’s PowerPoints is that they contain far too much detail making presenters focus too much on what’s behind them, rather than the audience in front of them.

Drew Banks, Head of International for presentation software Prezi, is a presentation guru.

An NCSU engineer turned MIT business guy, he spent two decades in Silicon Valley split between former computer visualisation giant, Silicon Graphics, and the home networking company he co-founded, Pie Digital.

On what he thinks about ‘death by PowerPoint’, Drew told Anthill, “Audiences – especially live audiences – resonate with stories, not documents. Because of their linear, paginated format, slide-based presentations encourage text-heavy documentation rather than stories.”

“The moment you force your audience to read and listen at the same time, you’re dividing their attention. Divided attention is the death of comprehension, the death of focus, the death of creativity,” he explained.

“Think about the mental energy it takes to watch a foreign film where you have to simultaneously read and watch. Now magnify that tenfold because you’re not reading a translation of a narrative but fragmented documentation that is often ancillary to the subject being discussed.”

What’s the cure for this ‘death by PowerPoint’?

However, sharing knowledge within businesses is still important, as is persuading, selling, convincing, leading, and moving people through presentations. Many companies are hence turning to new tools, in the cloud and mobile, and finding great success with them.

Prezi is one such tool – it already has over 1.25 million users in Australia and New Zealand. It is used by over 55 million individuals globally and by 80 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies. All in all 2.5 Prezis are created every second around the world.

How many have been made since you started reading this article?

Drew says the reason why Prezi has grown in popularity so quickly is its uniquely cinematic experience for delivering messages.

“Where other presentation software forces you into linear slide-based format, Prezi provides a much more coherent and overall view of the presentation and you can then literally zoom into the most important parts,” he explained.

Prezi moves beyond the slide-based format of traditional presentation software, to an open canvas format – similar to a large digital whiteboard – where you visually storyboard your ideas and then zoom in and out of different parts of your presentation.

“Similar to mind-mapping where you build information around a central idea or theme, Prezi helps both presenters and audiences understand information far more quickly and organically. Some might even say more naturally,” Drew added.

The success story of one Prezi adopter

Artur Raptis, CEO of A. Raptis and Sons, one of many companies that have adopted Prezi, revealed that his company’s presentation tool was a series of static product brochures they used to show potential and existing clients their products and services.

However, Artur felt these brochures were in no way remarkable and did not represent the forward-looking company that they are. “I was always looking for a replacement and decided to switch when I stumbled across Prezi.”

On why he switched specifically to Prezi, not any other tool, he said that in the past when he has done PowerPoint presentations, “they did not have any wow factor, regardless of how much effort he put into them”.

“They lacked the ability to engage with the audience and tell a compelling story,” he remarked. “Simply, I found them far too two dimensional, old-school and cartoonish.”

Artur says Prezi has helped him particularly to expand the business into the Asian market by helping him communicate more easily with non-English speaking peoples.

He disclosed to Anthill that they have grown their presence in China. The country now represents 30 per cent of their revenues, up from zero just two years ago.