By Cliff Atkinson
Seth Godin is
the author of five books that have been bestsellers around the world and
changed the way people think about marketing, change and work. He was
recently chosen as one of "21 Speakers for the Next Century” by
Successful Meetings and is consistently rated among the very
best speakers by the audiences he addresses. As you can expect, Seth has
a few things to say about PowerPoint, especially since his 2001 e-book
Really Bad PowerPoint (and How to Avoid It), was an Amazon
Atkinson: Seth, what prompted you to publish your e-book
Really Bad PowerPoint?
As a public speaker, I see far more than my fair share of
Worse, a lot of them are from people getting paid to
give them - and they're horrible. Horribly produced, horribly
ineffective. "What," I asked myself, "if I could help these folks fix
'em?" I figured that not only would it make my afternoons a little
saner, but it would help the millions of beleaguered folks out there who
have to watch them.
CA: Were you surprised
that the e-book became the #1 bestseller on Amazon's e-book store for
about a year?
SG: Well, it's a pretty small
pond (a lot of re-purposed junk is available as an e-book) but given the
promotion through my site, I sort of figured that it would do pretty
well. What has really and truly amazed me, though, is how 25% of the
readers just don't get it. Read the reviews on Amazon and you'll see what I mean. They
either don't get the point I'm trying to make (which seems too simple)
or they have a visceral, emotional response to my persuasion-based
CA: In your e-book you dared
people to try your approach "without compromise”. What were the results
from those who tried it? Did they encounter any obstacles or
SG: True story: A woman stopped
me at my son's fencing class on Saturday. She had seen me working on a
presentation one day as I was killing time waiting for class to end, and
we ended up spending 30 minutes talking about PowerPoint. On Saturday,
she reminded me of our earlier encounter and then said, (I'm not making
this up), "I love you! You made me millions of dollars. MILLIONS! I
redid my presentations and people can't sign up as clients fast enough.
It works. It works. It works." So, I'm not sure that everyone has had
the same results (your mileage may vary) but for $3, that's a pretty
good return on investment.
CA: What do you
think of Edward Tufte's booklet, The Cognitive Style of
SG: Edward and I disagree.
He thinks people are a lot smarter than I do. He likes packing a ton of
information into a slide and letting people tease it out (same as the
Napoleon graph in his first book). I go in the opposite direction. If
you can get the info across at first glance, you win. I'm in awe of his
marketing abilities, though!
Really Bad PowerPoint you wrote, "the reason we do
presentations is to make a point, to sell one or more ideas”. In
The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, Tufte complains of "an
attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch”.
What role should persuasion play in a
SG: What's a sales pitch? Is
church a sales pitch? What about trying to get the city council to
approve your zoning variance? It seems to me that if you're not wasting
your time and mine, you're here to get me to change my mind, to do
something different. And that, my friend, is selling. If you're not
trying to persuade, why are you here?
You recommend using "No more than six words on a slide. EVER.”
Tufte analyzes PowerPoint in terms of character density,
comparing the number of characters per page in a list of books, a list
of web pages, and a list of PowerPoint reports. He writes, "In terms of
character density, printed reports in PP format typically perform at 2%
to 10% of the typographic richness of nonfiction bestsellers!” What is
the appropriate role for words on PowerPoint slides? Are more words
SG: Why would you use words on the
screen when they do just fine in your mouth? Powerpoint allows you to
augment a verbal persuasion approach with memorable graphics, giving you
an unfair advantage. It also makes it clear (because you've got the
clicker) that you came to sell something, not just have a conversation.
Those two things are the reason to use it. If you want information
density, leave a memo behind.
CA: You give
practical examples of how presenters can communicate effectively by
simply narrating an image on a PowerPoint slide with no text - the
principle that "less is more.” Tufte says "Often, the more intense the
detail, the greater the clarity and understanding - because meaning and
reasoning are contextual. Less is a bore.” What is the appropriate
amount of data and detail to display in a presentation to communicate
rationally, and how do you balance that with
SG: I can only tell you that every
time I give one of my "less is bore" presentations, I'm consistently the
highest-ranked speaker at whatever conference I attend. Maybe it's cause
I'm so good looking. I doubt it. The CFO of Oracle, on the other hand,
did the densest presentation I'd ever seen a few years ago. Half the
audience literally walked out before it was over.
CA: It turns out that your
key PowerPoint recommendations are actually supported by research:
people learn better when words are narrated rather than presented
on-screen, when extraneous material is removed, and when pictures and
words are presented rather than words alone. Do you think the research
findings might help persuade the 25% of people who resisted what you had
SG: I think there's no way in the
world actual data or real life success is going to change the minds of
the 25%. We have to remind ourselves (we being the vanguard of change,
the folks who want work to matter) that a lot of people go to work
hoping it will be just like it was yesterday - but shorter. Doing PowerPoint right is easy. But it's hard work
because it involves change.
CA: You donated
100% of all publisher and author proceeds from your PowerPoint e-book
directly to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. How much have you
raised for them?
SG: Not as much as I need
Special offer for Sociable Media subscribers:
Buy a copy of Seth's new book Free Prize Inside, email him your receipt, and he'll
reply back with a FREE copy of Really Bad PowerPoint.