A Lesson on Storytelling and PowerPoint—from a Microsoft Exec

We ran into an interesting article that points to one of the challenges of using PowerPoint. Ironically, the piece, posted earlier this month on the Inc. website, is about a vice president of Microsoft, the company that creates and markets PowerPoint.

According to the article by Carmine Gallo, Panos Panay is the Microsoft exec charged with giving keynotes and product demonstrations for the company’s latest and greatest creations, such as Surface Pro and Xbox. Sure, he uses slides to help him deliver his presentation. But you won’t find a deck full of bullet points, technical copy, or tech specs.

Instead, Panay tells personal stories. And he uses his slides to help him tell those stories. The most common feedback he gets from audiences is that they love his PASSION. For example, one listener wrote: “Love watching Panos Panay share his passion about what’s possible.”

The Inc. article gives two examples. In one, Panay works to explain to his audience the need for different technologies to meet the needs of a future—more mobile—workforce. Apparently, he’s a big tennis player, so he tells a story about tennis, and about growing up watching the exciting matches between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. And he compares them to some of today’s greatest players.

“You cannot bring your wooden tennis racquet to win your next game in today’s generation,” Panay tells his audience, as he drives home his connection between his story and his message. We learn that his slides support his story, and not the other way around.

In another presentation described in the article, Panos Panay tells a story about his father, explaining that growing up, his father—a hardware engineer—had a home office in Panay’s bedroom, and that they would build TVs together, often when young Panos should have been in bed. He compares that father-son process to the passion-driven Microsoft culture.

What stood out for the author was the creative way that Panay used his slides to support his stories. “PowerPoint is not the enemy” Gallo wrote, noting how strongly many users dislike the tool. “A lack of creativity is,” he added.

We say it all the time—there’s a reason we call them “visual AIDS.” They’re supposed to help you communicate. Too many people use slides to replace the presentation—and they end up distracting the listener from the actual speech. These are typically NOT speakers that audiences think of as passionate. If your slides don’t help you emphasize your main points, they’re simply not visual aids.

Who better to make that point than a spokesperson for the company that created PP in the first place.

Click here to read the full Inc. article. 

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