How IT Can Fix Your "Death By PowerPoint" Presentation Problem

Who can make business users' PowerPoint presentations more appealing, clear and secure? IT. Yes, IT, says one Forrester expert. Here's why your IT staff may need a new jurisdiction.

IT departments today have many well-defined responsibilities. But what about helping business users with not just the technical side but also the creative elements of their PowerPoint decks and presentations?

While that may seem a tad outside IT's traditional jurisdiction, Forrester Research analyst Sheri McLeish contends that IT has a significant role to play: IT and knowledge management staffers have a responsibility to "teach design principles, educate workers on content restrictions, and provide visual resources will improve the accuracy and quality of information workers' everyday presentations," McLeish writes in a recent report, IT's Role In Creating Better Presentations.

[ Read about The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and 5 Ways to Ruin Your Next Presentation ]

For sure, PPT decks are a potential treasure trove of unwanted corporate data leakage. Presentation documents (MS's PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote) can contain a wide variety of sensitive data or otherwise highly valuable intellectual property. How'd you like your competitors being able to Google for your 2011 strategy or sales forecasts? (BTW: Simply putting "Confidential" at the bottom of each slide does not make a document secure.)

And, of course, most of us (save for, perhaps, his highness Steve Jobs) could use some help with the content and quality of our slide decks. "While professionally produced presentations might represent the corporate brand with pride, most PowerPoint decks produced by normal people miss that mark," McLeish writes.

But is what she terms "visual literacy" a skill which IT can actually assist users? Yes, she claims.

"The payoff may not be saving lives," McLeish writes, "but it will certainly come in the form of better information exchange and ultimately a better experience for employees and even customers."

Why People Struggle with Presentations

The indisputable evidence that most presenters are not adept at envisioning, creating and giving presentations is seen every day in the faces of thousands of bored audience members across corporate America.

Why is that so? McLeish cites several reasons.

First up, most information workers (or iWorkers, in Forrester parlance) have less expertise with presentation software than other productivity applications (e-mail or Excel), and it shows in the disappointing results. Secondly, iWorkers are "visually illiterate"—they have a general sense of what makes good visuals, but "consuming visual information is much easier than creating it," she notes.

Next, due to the templated, prepackaged nature of PPT and Keynote software packages, "people start thinking in the structured canned formats, in bullet points, rather than in ideas," McLeish writes. And lastly, iWorkers rely too much on the work of others (which brings in "misuse of content" and DLP risks).

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