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An Interview with Tad Simons

In this interview, Tad talks about Presentations magazine, and the presentations industry.


Tad Simons Presentations Editor-in-chief Tad Simons is an award-winning editor, journalist and media analyst with more than 20 years on the communications industry.

During his tenure as editor of Presentations magazine, a business-trade magazine dedicated to people who create and deliver professional presentations. The publication has won numerous regional and national awards for feature writing, design and commentary.

He frequently writes about the effects of technological change on communication, work and life, and reports on all aspects of multimedia, projection and display, digital imaging and collaboration technology. He lives in St. Paul, MN.

Geetesh: Tell me more about Presentations magazine - about its past, present and future. Tad: Presentations magazine occupies a unique niche in that we are the only magazine written exclusively for people who create and/or deliver presentations as a part of their professional life. We review all kinds of presentation products - projectors, displays, notebooks, digital cameras, software, etc. - as well as show our readers how to use this technology to become more effective presenters.

The Presentations universe extends beyond the magazine to include our web site, our weekly e-newsletter, the Presentations Industry Update, and our annual Presentations Conference & Expo, held in Atlanta this year, Mar. 1-3. We are, have been, and always will be dedicated to being the best resource possible for people who want to improve their presentation skills and/or purchase presentation technology.

Geetesh: We are witnessing the increased use of broadband for virtual conferencing. Do you think this unstoppable barrage is sidelining human-to-human communication in some way?

Tad: No, I think there are so many ways for people to communicate today that human-to-human communication has never been better. I see technologies such as videoconferencing and Webconferencing as supplemental tools that allow people to communicate when they don't necessarily need to meet face-to-face. In some cases, use of the technology displaces face-to-face, but in most cases it just diversifies the number of options people have for connecting. And no matter what happens, I don't think face-to-face communication will ever lose its appeal. If anything, it may become more important as communication technology matures. In the same way that a handwritten note today feels more personal than e-mail, seeing someone in person is a more intimate investment of your time, so it carries more weight. That's an important social distinction to recognize.

Geetesh: What's your opinion about the improvements in the presentation hardware industry in recent times?

Tad: If by hardware you mean projectors, plasma displays, digital cameras, computers and all the rest, I think the improvements in the past ten years have been astonishing. And because prices for everything continue to drop, more people than ever are using these tools in presentations.

Unfortunately, the skill level of people using the technology hasn't kept pace. Today's projectors are extremely sophisticated devices that can put extraordinary images on the wall, but most people still just use them to throw up PowerPoint slides - and PowerPoint itself is still basically the same program it was fifteen years ago. What I'd like to see is a revolution in presentation skills and graphics that makes intelligent use of the technology available to presenters.

Geetesh: Microsoft PowerPoint seems to be at the center of the entire presentation industry, and everything seems to revolve or emanate from it. What do you think?

Tad: I think PowerPoint is a fine program that gets horribly misused millions of time every day. Where we went wrong, I think, is in assuming that just because PowerPoint resides on everyone's computer, everyone can and ought to create their own presentation slides. That's the reason there are so many awful PowerPoint presentations in the world - because people without a lick of design sense are out there creating their own slides, inflicting their ineptness on unsuspecting audiences everywhere.

Personally, I'd like for people wake up and see the value of professionally produced presentation visuals. There are thousands of people out there who went to design school and are professionally trained to use such tools as PowerPoint and Flash and Director in ways an amateur could never equal. And yet, there are thousands of companies out there that would rather "save" the money required to get professional-looking visuals by requiring their employees to create their own visuals. These companies don't calculate the opportunity cost of having their people, especially executives, spend time on creating slides, and they are willing to accept horrific slides even if the presentation is for a million-dollar deal and their lousy PowerPoint slides may jeopardize their chances of winning. It's crazy.

That said, I also think the door is wide open for someone to create presentation design program that makes it easier to create sophisticated-looking business graphics. Most of the people who are capable of designing brilliant PowerPoint slides do so in spite of the program, not because of it - they are simply very good at working around PowerPoint's limitations.

Geetesh: What about online rich media? Is it the future?

Tad: Maybe - when everyone has a big enough pipe; when all computer platforms can work together seamlessly; when all computer programs have compatible code; when compression technologies provide a seamless, high-quality signal; and when all forms of technology come together in perfect harmony. In other words, there's a long way to go. The Internet itself hardly existed ten years ago, though, so I'm confident that rich-media technology will continue to improve as well. Then all we'll have to do is improve the content for all that rich-media capability, which isn't quite as easy or certain an undertaking.

Geetesh: Is there some sort of training required to become a good presenter?

Tad: Not necessarily. I think the only things required to be a good presenter are the desire to be one, and the willingness to work at it. Coaching and training can help, but the only way to truly improve is to give a lot of presentations, learn from them, and apply what you've learned to future presentations. That said, I've found that even a small amount of training or coaching can go an extremely long way. Good presentation skills can be learned, and training gives you things to work on, makes you conscious of bad habits, and gives you tools to work with when you're called upon to speak. These factors alone can give people the confidence and inspiration they need to improve their skills. Presentation skills are a lot like golf - you're never going to be perfect at it, but if you practice, you improve your chances that the outcome won't be humiliating.

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