Geetesh: Tell us more about your work and how it is has changed in the last five years, and what could happen in the next five.
Jim: Distinction started in 1998 as a presentation design-only company and opportunities abounded. The biggest challenge was selling the idea of higher-end presentation design to companies who simply couldn’t visualize PowerPoint looking any different then what they were already doing. And most certainly weren’t excited about paying someone to do what their administrative assistants could do for $4.50/hour. For the companies, however, who had a good grasp of the “pain” created by their marginal PowerPoint (ie. lost opportunity), hiring us was a no-brainer. We just had to ferret out those organizations.
Although we were raising the bar on presentation design, we were painfully aware that the baseline content suffered from pre-existing messaging that was often confusing and self-serving. In the end analysis, we measured our effectiveness not on our ability to help a presenter “give ” a better presentation, but rather on the pay-off that comes when an audiences truly “gets” them. Much of the world today is still pre-occupied with simply “giving” presentations, creating an abundance of companies more than willing to sell picks and shovels to the miners.
Distinction began offering message consulting services in 2000 and revenues increased quickly. The combination of clean, crisp design and expertly messaged presentation flow resonated well with both with our customers and their audiences. In 2002, the final element came together for us. Well messaged, nicely designed presentations still needed to be delivered well. We added delivery skills workshops to our service offerings and they quickly became the fastest growing segment of our business. Using a skill-upon-skill coaching methodology and the vehicle of videotaping, we provide an opportunity for presenters to see themselves through the eyes of their audiences making meaningful change possible.
Where’s it all headed? Well, we’ve all seen how good PowerPoint 2007 looks right out of the box. Many of those pesky cosmetic design choices have been addressed in well thought-out auto-design interfaces complete with intelligent color schemes. But presenters can still become preoccupied with form over function. Nice looking presentations can still have nothing meaningful to say and a presenter’s personal skills can still undermine their effectiveness. These challenges create an even greater need for presentation professionals who see the bigger personal communication picture. For them, the future will be bright.
Geetesh: Technology is changing the way presentations are interfaced and delivered -- give us your opinion about this sphere.
Jim: The evolution of presentation-related technology the past 10 years has been much needed. Today’s laptops don’ t lock up like they use to. Electronic projectors sync well without much prompting. Broader Internet bandwidth and better web interfaces have facilitated easier web presenting with less need to dumb down presentations. And a presenter’s PowerPoint can now be deployed into communication venues none of us could have imagined a few years back. (ie. iPods).
The responsibility of sorting through all those options with honesty towards what truly advances the art of personal communication still falls on each presenter. History would indicate many will continue to spend money looking for easier, quick fix short-cuts to the presentation process. Tools or technologies that promise “dazzle” and “pizzazz” will trump the hard work it takes to be a more effective communicator.
Geetesh: Is the marketplace's sophistication and understanding of the presentation process evolving as quickly as the design tools?
Jim: Someone once asked me if all the evangelism I do for better presentations/presenting will eventually impact my business. The answer is – not in a million years. For every company that evolves these core competencies within their organizations, there are 10 more who still struggle with the fundamentals of presenting their important thoughts and ideas. Things are changing, however. Companies are under greater and greater pressure because their competitors are winning the battle for the hearts and minds of their customers.
Geetesh: We are witnessing the advance of presentations in almost every field: government, religion, education, training, etc. And many of these areas are nowhere close to saturation as far as the potential for presentations is concerned. Can you share your thoughts on how we can ensure that this potential is utilized in a optimal way.
Jim: People everywhere are drawn to PowerPoint done different and done well. As a presentation community, we need to continue to elevate the visibility of good visual communication tools in venues like slideshare.net. Status quo PowerPoint should create enormous internal pressure on a company to evolve the use of these communication tools – and quickly.