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Solving the PowerPoint Predicament: An Interview with Tom Bunzel

In this interview, Tom Bunzel speaks about his book, Solving the PowerPoint Predicament.


Tom Bunzel Tom Bunzel specializes in knowing what other presenters need. He has appeared on Tech TV's Call for Help as "Professor PowerPoint" and is a featured speaker at the PowerPoint Live conference each year. Tom is also a "technology coach" for the Neuroscience Education Institute giving one-on-one instruction to physicians.

Solving the PowerPoint Predicament Tom's new book on PowerPoint -- Solving the PowerPoint Predicament was released a while ago. The book goes beyond PowerPoint and teaches you how you can use various third party products, and sound presentation design principles to create presentations that look different from the more common variety of PowerPoints that you encounter each day.

In this interview, Tom discusses his book and PowerPoint.

Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself and your new PowerPoint book?

Tom: I am the weekly columnist for the MS Office section of, the online part of QUE publishing. I was also contributing editor to Presentations Magazine and have written several computer books, including "Easy Digital Music" and "SAMS Teach Yourself PowerPoint 2003 in 24 Hrs". I was also on Tech TV as “Professor PowerPoint” but am no longer using that title; but as a consultant I have seen that most PowerPoint issues are really business issues.

So “Solving the PowerPoint Predicament” is really a business book about effective communication. Learning a program is not significant; solving business and other important tasks is, and there is nothing as vital as effective communication.

I had been privileged to be able to learn from some excellent “soft skills” practitioners – experts in communication as speaker coaches, consultants and so on – and I felt there was a disconnect where their books ended and where PowerPoint textbooks began. I wanted to approach the skill set of digital media from the springboard of applying proven communication methods from other fields.

Geetesh: What exactly is the PowerPoint predicament, and how will readers solve the predicament with this book?

Tom: The PowerPoint Predicament is similar to what happened with desktop publishing and the computer. Everyone became an instant expert and publisher and what emerged was a lot of really bad work.

Unfortunately everyone has been subjected to really bad PowerPoint that does the opposite of what is intended – instead of communicating or inspiring people it puts them to sleep or makes them grumpy.

On the other hand many of us have seen PowerPoint used the way it was intended – with excellent graphics and organization that truly supports what a speaker or presenter wants to impart to an audience – and it helps achieve the desired goal.

Presenting successfully is only partly dependent on PowerPoint, and as we have seen PowerPoint can be an impediment as well as an enhancement for a presentation. I want to help readers use the power of PowerPoint for good rather than evil.

Geetesh: Your book goes beyond PowerPoint and looks at plenty of third party programs and resources -- what factors made you choose this approach?

Tom: One aspect of PowerPoint and another predicament, if you will, is that the program needs to be part of an overall communications strategy.

It’s not about showing up and just giving a slide show anymore. It’s usually about sending an email, setting a stage, connecting with the audience, supplementing with a web page, and also integrating other media – like audio, video or DVD – which are assets that may be available for an event but need to be integrated.

PowerPoint itself serves more and more as a media platform – the hyperlink capability alone let you tap into so many other resources. Again none of these tools should be used for their own sake – but they make a lot of sense in terms of getting a message across.

For example, a physician has video that shows the efficacy of a treatment modality. It is on CD ROM or conventional videotape; she knows it will greatly enhance the impact of her PowerPoint presentation but it needs to be captured and edited. This requires the implementation of third party tools.

Similarly another presenter wants to reach an audience on the web that can’t attend her event. She wants to capture the show and deliver it as video. There is no feature of PowerPoint itself that currently does this, but there are many third party tools that will empower this presenter to accomplish the task. The book goes through these scenarios and offers step by step solutions that connect directly to such business or academic needs.

Geetesh: Moving beyond the book, do you believe that presentation design is something best left to design agencies -- or is it something that needs to be done in-house?

Tom: That is a great question and one I address directly in an entire chapter on how to apply “professional” design principles. Many of us a verbal folks who can’t even coordinate a wardrobe, much less design a brochure or presentation.

Everyone has gone into a presentation for a major brand like HP and sensed the clarity of the slides and the slickness of the approach. Therefore I encourage readers to learn by looking at examples from acknowledged experts in this field – like Nancy Duarte and Julie Terberg – whom I’ve been lucky enough to be exposed to.

Of course there are other resources to draw on. You can apply these principles to create (or acquire) your own clean design templates and not use the stale gallery that comes with PowerPoint. I think what also sets great design apart is creativity and the extra time it takes. Nancy Duarte makes this point when she shows different versions of a presentation, one which her team can do in a day and another that takes a month. The latter has the benefit of much more forethought and profits from really creative approaches.

This is particularly important in terms of using the visual portion of the program. Non-designers are prone to endless text and bullets. Effective visual thinkers come up with exquisite visual analogies or pictographs to convey even the most complex information effectively.

This is a learned skill and takes time and effort to perfect.

Recently I’ve gotten interested in an online resource in this area – PowerFrameworks – which offers a subscription that lets anyone take advantage of professional designed diagrams and graphics that tell a story.

Then, once you’ve used these kinds of tools effectively for a while your design sense may improve – but you’d still do well to employ talented artists if you possibly can.

Also, I think men in particular are prone to thinking they can do it all – think, write, strategize and design. It’s usually a mistake and it takes a team to do it on a truly professional level.

Geetesh: Can you share some trivia with Indezine readers -- a humorous incident, some advice, or just anything else you would like to share?

Tom: No, not really. Just kidding.

In general I would just say that the greatest resource for people in this field is the community of experts that exists, many of which have been featured on this site. The Presentations Council of InfoComm, the Visual Being blog, and PowerPoint LIVE, Rick Altman’s great event, is such a rich and inspirational environment where you can be truly be exposed to expertise in areas you can’t possibly master on your own.

Having said that I remember being in my twenties and wanting to surprise two friends of mine who were attending a party in Aspen. I was living in New York at the time but had some discounted airline tickets (I worked for a tour company) so I booked a ticket to Denver, took the tiny prop job to Aspen, got a cab, and went to an address where I thought the party was at – hoping to surprise my pals.

But the address I had didn’t say whether it was East Main St. or West Main St., so I asked the cab driver what he thought.

After all that traveling though, he just looked at me and said, “Man, you gotta keep your own sh*t together.”

As a sole practitioner I still think about that whenever I try to do it all for a client – strategize, create a presentation, train the staff and set up the room or event. Ultimately you’re responsible and no matter how well you plan, you still need to cover all of the bases.

Maybe that’s truly the PowerPoint Predicament.

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