We've all been there. Sitting through mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations, going through our grocery list in our head (bananas, milk, bread, etc.) while some non-self aware monotone joker who knows zip about giving a good presentation wields the clicker like a torture device.

But fed up companies are fighting back. Amazon and Jeff Bezos embrace narrative storytelling whereby meetings open with a 30-minute read of a six-page memo pre-written like a descriptive story. Rich discussion ensues, as fellow Inc. columnist Carmine Gallo wrote.

Add to the mix of revolutionaries a company by the name of InVision (they create software for designers). CEO Clark Valberg has banned death by PowerPoint. He told Quartz that using slide decks in presentations gives the presenters all the power: "Instead of presenters always holding the ball in their hand, we want them to throw the ball into the audience and create more of a game."

How? By drawing.

Presenters are expected to sketch out their presentation/ideas in front of a group. Imagine coming to a meeting armed only with a sharpie and a big whiteboard to doodle on. Valberg says this process helps the presenter crystalize his/her thinking, helps others understand the thought process, and seems less formal, thus fostering discussion.

At first glance, you might think it's a neat idea for designers who need to use sketch work anyway. But the idea has application for anyone stuck in a Slidefest 2019 type meeting. I've had some experience with this sketch-centered process and can pinpoint why it's such an intriguing idea.

1. It invites participation.

As Valberg says, "Sketches are, by definition, low-fidelity. Therefore, they keep presenters from getting attached to their ideas and invite their co-workers to participate".

He's right.

When you see someone drawing out their idea, it inherently feels like a work in progress and encourages more discussion, debate, and adding-on of complementary ideas. I watched someone use this process to share a "presentation" on a new product readying for launch. He emerged with a much stronger idea. If he was just slinging a bullet point summary, I highly doubt the same outcome would have occurred. Which brings us to the next point.

2. It encourages ongoing collaboration versus just sharing what is complete.

InVision uses a virtual whiteboard technology called Freehand which allows a presenter to share the sketch with a remote audience. The tool then encourages comments, discussion, add-on doodles, and gives all "present" the ability to return to the sketch over and over again to continue collaborating. Compare this to the written-in-stone meeting notes that are distributed (and almost never read) after a standard slide deck presentation.

3. It's more engaging.

When you're forced to draw your idea, you must do so in stages. And the viewer wants to see where you're going. It necessitates storytelling along the way which has been proven to engage audiences of all types. As a professional speaker I can assure you that audiences are most riveted through a personal story you tell, not by that third "money" bullet point out of five on your slide.

4. It helps the presenter stick to the main idea.

Drawing a sketch to convey an idea forces clarity of thinking and discourages clutter. Everything you communicate as you draw has to build on, reinforce, or explain the idea you are trying to convey, otherwise, what are you drawing? Spoken words that accompany bullet points can meander easily. Drawing ideas forces more disciplined explanation.

5. It forces the presenter to crystallize their thinking in advance.

Nobody said this approach was easy. But you quickly get good at it and realize that to convey an idea via sketches and doodles, you have to have clearly thought through the most important things to communicate in advance. Otherwise, you'll have a whiteboard that looks like a refrigerator filled with the drawings of a four-year-old, none of which connect with the other or make any sense.

I'm not saying this approach can work for every single presentation type. Nor am I going so far as to advocate death to PowerPoint, as the tool can be very useful in a variety of occasions. I do think that the idea of drawing-based presentations has a lot of merit and applications though. So grab that sharpie, sharpen your thinking, and enjoy sharper, more productive discussions.

Published on: Oct 23, 2018
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