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An Interview with Jerry Weissman

In this interview, Jerry Weissman talks about PowerPoint, and provides advice for presenters.

Jerry Weissman founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988 in Silicon Valley.

His background in broadcasting, television production, publication, professional writing and classic rhetoric made Weissman uniquely suited to create a new comprehensive, media-based approach to presentation coaching.

Mr. Weissman's initial focus was to help companies in Information Technology develop their general presentation skills. One of his debut efforts was the Cisco Systems IPO roadshow. Following its very successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then Chairman of Cisco's Board of Directors, attributed "at least two to three dollars" of the offering price to Mr. Weissman's coaching. In addition to Cisco, Weissman has coached hundreds of CEO's prior to their IPO roadshows.

Over time, Mr. Weissman's focus expanded to include Life Sciences (Biotechnology, Medical Devices and Medical Services); and then further into Retail, Real Estate and Restaurants. Until recently, all of Weissman's coaching has been delivered to small groups through custom programs. At the request of Microsoft and with encouragement from other long-term clients, Mr. Weissman has broadened his services to accommodate large groups in a new cost effective seminar program called The Master Class.

Mr. Weissman holds a Masters in Speech and Drama from Stanford University. He spent a decade at WCBS-TV in New York City, where he produced Public Affairs programs and series. In his role as a Public Affairs producer, Mr. Weissman brought lay people into the studio, made them feel comfortable, look comfortable, helped them develop a succinct story, provide graphics support and field questions. Each of these components was to become a fundamental building block for the Power Presentations, Ltd. program.

Since the start of Power Presentations, Ltd. fourteen years ago, it has become the preferred source for presentation coaching. Mr. Weissman has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes ASAP, Fast Company and Business 2.0 and the Los Angeles Times, among others. Weissman is a regular speaker at national conferences.

Geetesh: Nowadays, you hear PowerPoint being compared to death. What do you think about this whole thing?

Jerry: While it is true that many presentations are mind-numbingly poor, the fault is not in Microsoft PowerPoint, but in the presenter. To blame the software for poor presentations is like blaming poor handwriting or spelling on the Montblanc Pen Company. The fault is not with the pen, but the penmanship. Presenters must learn to adopt the Less is More rule.

Geetesh: What do you think about online rich media delivery of presentations - for instance PowerPoint re-purposed to be distributed online?

Jerry: Online presentations, such as Microsoft LiveMeeting, present vast new opportunities to improve communication and save the cost and wear and tear of travel. While many of the techniques that apply to in-person presentations are applicable online, there are a number of significant changes that must be adopted.

One is the absence of direct personal contact. To compensate, the online presenter must provide a richer narration and be mindful of conveying meaning with vocal inflection. Another important factor is to make the cyber audience feel involved by using the polling and interactive techniques available in online software.

Geetesh: If you had to put into a few sentences your advice for presenters who get nervous, what would it be?

Jerry: Preparation, preparation, preparation. Organize your ideas so that they flow logically. Then rehearse by verbalizing. This means speaking the presentation aloud, just as you will be delivering it at the actual presentation. Most presenters simply mumble. Verbalize instead. It will crystallize the thoughts and settle the mind.

Geetesh: Workshops use so much of the same concepts as presentations other than the fact that the audience does not have to be led from Point A to Point B. Or is there a Point A to Point B distinction there too?

Jerry: Every communication situation has a group of people starting at Point A. That group can be an audience or a workshop. The reason either of those groups convene is that they want to achieve something new as a result of their meeting… that is Point B. Point B is the endgame.

Geetesh: Can you share some candid feedback you received as a direct result of people benefiting from your courses.

Jerry: The most eloquently stated response I’ve ever received during my coaching was from an executive who said to me, "This is the blinding flash of the obvious!"

This man had extensive experience in the publishing trade and, while he was an effective communicator, he thought of his presentations as text. People often approach presentations as documents because it seems efficient to create the presentation and the leave-behind as one. Instead, it greatly dilutes the effectiveness of both. When I showed him how to drive a wedge between the two functions he saw the light!

Geetesh: Can you share some tips about everyday presenting situations?

Jerry: One of the most common mistakes presenters make is to try to use their PowerPoint as a document: leave-behinds, send-aheads, crib notes, etc. A presentation is a presentation and only a presentation. If you need a document, use Microsoft Word, if you need a presentation, use PowerPoint. If you need a document of your presentation, use the Notes Page View in PowerPoint… and distribute it AFTER the presentation.