Of Oscars and PowerPoints

Written by Steve Piacente

March 1, 2017


What do awards and envelopes have to do with presenters and PowerPoint?

Let’s return to the night of the Oscars, and the guy who handed the wrong envelope for Best Picture to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Turns out that Brian Cullinan had just tweeted a backstage photo of Emma Stone.

Was the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant making decisions while distracted? Multi-tasking at the height of Hollywood’s biggest night? Risking so much because he was certain his brain could complete two tasks at once?

The brain, it turns out, is a single file processor. We’ve convinced ourselves otherwise, but every day distracted drivers, phone-focused pedestrians and speakers everywhere prove we cannot achieve the results we want if we fail to give our full attention to the job at hand. Rather, what we often get is disaster.

Did you know that distracted walking incidents involving cell phones accounted for more than 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011?

If we can’t walk and handle the phone at the same time, why, as a presenter, would you ever force audiences to choose between you and your slides?

Time and again presenters show up with slides laden with text. Sometimes they get so enraptured with all the words, they begin reading them. As they read, they break eye contact with the crowd. Be assured the crowd doesn’t like this.

“If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, cancel the meeting and send a report,” says marketing guru Seth Godin.

In Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds urges, “restraint in preparation, simplicity in design and naturalness in delivery.”

Of course it’s not certain that accountant Cullinan would have gotten it right if he hadn’t tweeted moments before what’s being called the most infamous gaffe in Oscar history. What’s instructive it that he’d been told by the PwC bosses not to tweet once he was on site, according to USA Today.

That instruction is not surprising. Tempting as it surely was, Cullinan’s bosses knew that with all the lights, cameras and action, the simple job of handing over the right envelope would be far more challenging if the delivery man was not fully present.

Likewise, don’t distract your audiences. To keep folks engaged, lighten up on the bullets. Use bold images that complement, rather than compete, with what you’re saying. Keep the graphs and data simple and easy to understand.

It may not feel as comfortable as that old safety net built of words, but, envelope please, wouldn’t it be worth a try if the reward were attentiveness, connection and applause?