Death to Death by PowerPoint

We have all been there, sitting in that conference room, trying to tune out the monotonous voice of the “presenter with unlimited slides.”  The lucky ones came up with an excuse at the last minute like, “Sorry, my kids just texted me and apparently my basement is flooding,”  or  “I did not realize I have a scheduling conflict, I will join you after the presentation, could you please email me the slides?”  The fortunate ones have blackberries, iPhones or a PDA to surf the web during the presentation, maybe even catch up with friends on IM while occasionally looking up and nodding at the slide-monger. The unlucky ones did not have an excuse, nor do they have a PDA, so they are left with feigning interest in the presentation while making a mental list of grocery items they need to pick up on the way home.  Just when you are about to die that slow death by PowerPoint, we hear those blissful words, “This is my last slide,” and everyone scrambles to look up as if they were always paying strict attention.  Sound familiar?  We have all been there.

One of my customers asked me recently to attend a meeting with a third-party software vendor.  This company was proposing a software product that would complement our existing ACD offering.  I was asked to attend this meeting to identify the architectural impact this product would have on my customer’s overall solution.  I was surprised to see that the vendor’s engineering representatives were conducting a customized architecture & technical impact discussion via PowerPoint.  It’s the right strategy, but the wrong tool, and we can all guess how that presentation went. 

Don’t get me wrong, I like PowerPoint.  It is very effective for short fact-based presentations.  However, architecture and technical discussions, especially those tailored to a customer’s individual environment, should always be conducted on the white board.  Here’s why:

Interactive – “The Board” is organically interactive.  Nothing engages a customer more than a white board to help describe their architecture.  From the get-go, you’ll have their attention, and the discussion will be specific to their environment.

Flexible – It allows the presenter to drive the discussion in any direction based on real-time customer feedback.  No more, “Oh no!  My slides have nothing to do with that topic, that’s another presentation”

Responsive – “The Board” addresses a customer’s immediate needs.  You can avoid saying, “Your burning question will be answered on slide 168, so let’s quickly get thru these next 100 slides”.  Ok I am exaggerating the numbers but you get my point.  After all, aren’t we there to provide a solution?

Simple – Layering the modular architecture blocks from scratch allows the customer to understand the functionality of each component as well as their relation to each other.  This allows the customer to quickly understand the solution as a whole.  You know you’ve done your job when they start coming up with architecture solutions based on the information you just provided them.

Architecture discussions should always take place on the white board.  Do you disagree?  Let me know.  I have some bullet points I’d like to swivel in your direction.

Abi Chandra

Abi Chandra

Abi Chandra

My career in telephony has unintentionally mimicked the life cycle of contact center solutions. In the 1990's, I was working on Rockwell's legacy ACD systems after which I then used server board-based systems at Aspect Solutions. Now, for the past five years, I have been working on IP systems for Interactive Intelligence. My primary background is in Cisco Systems data and voice networking and integrations. At Interactive Intelligence I am responsible for designing and architecting large-scale contact center solutions for strategic customers. I also regularly train our channel partners in systems engineering design methodologies. In my spare time, I enjoy making movies and the creative arts. People are surprised to hear that I am an avid Jazzerciser.

4 comments to Death to Death by PowerPoint

  • Abi – I couldn’t agree with you more. As a matter of fact, the "board" is the most interactive way you can have a discussion. It’s the type of dialog people have in their day to day lives, why not extend that into the business world?

    For example, when you go out to business lunch to talk shop, do you bring your PPT and start going through it? Most likely not! You start writing on a piece of paper, you use your hands to gesture and even use whatever "building blocks" that are on the table to help get your point across.

    Loosen up tech heads! Please step away from the mouse and start stepping up to the "board!" PLEASE!

    Back to you, Abi….

  • I totally agree and ended up going to the white board since every situation I discussed with a prospect was different. It was much easier to have them describe their environment, which got them involved and talking and then we could draw in the ININ solution components so they understood what our solution looked like. It has always worked well over the last 10 years. It also allow you to do "what ifs" which can be very enlightening in terms of what the customer would rather have once they know it is doable.
  • You are right Tim, architecture discussions should be more like day to day conversations as opposed to PowerPoint presentations.
    I think I like the idea of a business lunch architecture discussion. The salt and pepper shakers can reflect the servers in two data centers on opposing sides of our table, condiments will play peripheral applications, the forks would provide the firewall, and we could use straws to demonstrate call flow……..that is untill the server brings the Ahi Tuna salad.
  • Thanks for your comment Eddie.

    I am adding the point from your feedback as another reason to conduct architecture discussions on "The Board".

    What Ifs: – Allows the facilitator of the discussion to walk the customer through various scenarios which impact their architecture – current and future. Thereby providing them options which they may not have considered. 

    You can do that with PowerPoint only if you can tell the future:-)

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