Software // Information Management
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2/2/2008
03:38 PM
Seth Grimes
Seth Grimes
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The Rigidity Trap Applies to PowerPoint, Dashboards Alike

Curt Monash shares my disdain for PowerPoint: not the software per se but rather the rigid communication dysstyle it encourages. Seeming solutions such as pecha-kucha pick up the pace. You "say what you need to say and then sit the hell down." On the other hand, you're still locked in that rigid PowerPoint sequence. Faster, simpler presentations aren't necessarily better presentations. The same principle applies to communicating analytical results.

Curt Monash shares my disdain for PowerPoint: not the software per se but rather the rigid communication dysstyle (="dysfunctional style") it encourages. Seeming solutions such as pecha-kucha — "a simple set of rules to presentations: exactly 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each" — are seductive. You pick up the pace and limit the text that can appear on a slide, which seem like pluses. Per Daniel H. Pink's description in Wired, you "say what you need to say... and then sit the hell down." On the other hand, you're still locked in that rigid PowerPoint sequence. Just think of that stereotypical image of the American tourist abroad: If foreigners don't understand English, speak slower and louder and maybe they'll get it. It doesn't work of course. Similarly, faster, simpler presentations aren't necessarily better presentations.

The same principle applies to communicating analytical results.Last week, I faced the deadly PPT-WebEx combination Curt mentions, on this occasion, in a briefing on an operational BI solution. I heard the same claims made by a dozen analytics vendors — Low latency! Powerful! Intuitive! Personalized! — delivered via slides that could pretty much have come from any of those dozen vendors. In situations like this one, faster and more concise wouldn't help. The answer is to disrupt the flow. If a product is "personalized" and "intuitive," spare me the slides and show me the software.

In communicating analytical findings, fast and furious, pecha-kucha's apparent bottom line, is going to work only if you have a single, neatly bounded idea that can be presented linearly with no complexity and with no digression allowed. In every other case, the answer to rigidity isn't speed and it isn't over-simplification by over-reduction to a handful of predetermined metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs). Find a style and pace that suit the data, the analytical goals, and the audience. Rigidity is a trap whether the culprit is PowerPoint or an analytical dashboard.

Do disrupt the flow, but don't simply provide tools without guidance, context, or narrative. Think before you present, and relate the presentation to the data and to the viewer's needs rather than to your own.


Seth Grimes is an analytics strategist with Washington DC based Alta Plana Corporation. He consults on data management and analysis systems.Curt Monash shares my disdain for PowerPoint: not the software per se but rather the rigid communication dysstyle it encourages. Seeming solutions such as pecha-kucha pick up the pace. You "say what you need to say and then sit the hell down." On the other hand, you're still locked in that rigid PowerPoint sequence. Faster, simpler presentations aren't necessarily better presentations. The same principle applies to communicating analytical results.

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