Today we have a guest post from Bob Gilstein, a Town Planner in Portsmouth RI. In a recent chat with Bob he had discussed how effective PPT has been in helping him present and explain topics to townspeople, something that many town planners engage in on a regular basis. Bob provided some great insights on using PPT in this context. One of the things that really caught my attention is that Bob pointed out that PPT is not only useful in presenting the ideas, but actually helps to keep the meeting flowing in a positive and constructive fashion. We’ve all been to town meetings of the type he describes below, in which an issue is hotly contested by one group of citizens, or by town government. As Bob describes, a carefully crafted Power Point designed presentation can be key to explaining complex concepts and options, and ultimately, maintaining a civil and constructive discourse:
Recently I had to make a presentation to a group of over 200 property owners from a working class neighborhood – with news that most of them would have to spend $15-25,000 on new septic systems. In this economy (2011). One week before, a crowd from the same neighborhood had nearly eaten the presenters alive on a different subject. (Someone actually called the police just in case.) Needless to say, my goal was not popularity.
Experience has taught me that voice alone cannot keep an unruly crowd from becoming unruly. But even the most aggravated people can be orderly if they are presented with order.
As people were filing in, I played a revolving PowerPoint showing pictures of, well, toilet humor (appropriate, no?). This kept them relatively quiet, rather than plotting my demise.
PowerPoint was essential in getting my message across, educating the crowd, and most of all keeping them focused.
The words on the screen contained just a few words on each of the major points I was making as I spoke. One major subject with a few sub-bullets per slide. I never read the words on the screen, just fill in detail and move right along.
As I hoped, it worked! People were engaged; the room was quiet.
Since this had to be a long presentation with lots of information, and since any voice can get boring, we had two other presenters. I worked carefully with them to organize and trim down their slides.
The question-and-answer session afterward was more than civil. People asked good questions, many referred to the slides they had seen, and complimented us on our honesty and forthrightness.
I left the meeting with a smile (and my head).
I have seen PowerPoint work before and done it myself. People learn visually, so it plants information better than voice. It focuses the attention of the audience, keeps them from interrupting, and provides a framework for later discussion.