I love a spot of innovation now and again.
For example, I’m currently relishing the fact that Apple’s new iTunes service means that the cost of feeding my habit for new music has dramatically reduced. I’m forever grateful that my car will beep at me whenever I consider going over the speed limit. Oh, and what would I do without the technical wonder that is Evernote?
Technology is ruddy marvellous, isn’t it?
Yet sometimes innovation can go too far. It can prompt behaviours that simply do us mere mortals no favours whatsoever. For example take the forthcoming version of PowerPoint which now includes a Bing powered fact checker. Yep…you heard that right. Your presentation software of choice will review your slide content, stroke it’s silicon chin and then tell you if you’ve got it correct. The name of this new feature is Insights.
I’m sorry but this has to stop.
Trite though this may sound, presentations are about people. In their raw form, they are about people communicating messages, facts and opinion to prompt an action from their audience (who, coincidentally, also happen to be people). The resulting action might be understanding, could be recognition of your point of view or the act of signing on the dotted line…whatever the end goal, it starts with communication and connection from one person to another.
My fear is that Insights is a big step back down a rocky road we’ve trodden before. Remember that widely vilified character Clippy? People hated Clippy – like an unwelcome party guest, he popped up when you least expected it and proceeded to sit in the background, nagging and interrupting like some kind of technological tinnitus.
Of course, it wasn’t just Clippy we had to contend with. Back in the day, PowerPoint came preloaded with story structures to help you with all manner of presentation scenarios, from Building a Business Case through to Sales Meetings. No doubt these ideas were well intentioned when on the drawing board but the reality was that it prompted millions of people to stop thinking and start typing as soon as they entered ‘presentation mode’.
Brains immediately started to disengage as soon as the PowerPoint icon was double-clicked and pre-loaded pointers were slavishly followed.
Make no mistake, powerful presentations that resonate with audiences require smart thinking and hard work – quite frankly, Clippy and pre-built story structures are the antithesis to the required levels of clarity and quality of thought.
So back to my rising sense of panic that technology is pushing us back into the bad habits of old. Like Clippy and pre-built story structures, I have no doubt someone somewhere within Microsoft has the very best of intentions with Insights.
The issue is that by letting the technology take the strain, we’re taking the thinking, creativity and audience connection out of presentation development…and that’s a bad thing. A very bad thing.
The ugly truth is that creating great presentations requires hard work, deep thinking and a commitment to not cut corners. For all their good intentions, the Insights function within PowerPoint has just made it easier for potentially great presentations to fall back into the trap of ‘autopilot drivel’…and when this happens, nobody wins.