If it seems mysterious that we sometimes talk in circles about PowerPoint and things don't get any better, just follow the trail of the missing metrics. That's where we'll find a clue that will help us crack this unsolved mystery.
Any good detective would begin by asking questions, so let's begin by asking questions about our questions. What questions do we tend to ask about PowerPoint, and what clues do the questions reveal about our assumptions? Let's locate our own orientation by looking at 2 groups of PowerPoint questions we could ask:
1. Do you like a blue background better, or green?
2. Should my logo go in the upper left hand corner, or right?
3. Have you seen PowerPoint's latest animation feature?
4. Should I have a maximum of 5 rows of bullets, or 7?
5. How can I add some "pizzazz" to my presentation?
1. Is our PowerPoint media helping us to achieve our goals, or is it standing in the way?
2. Does PowerPoint help us to retain our intellectual assets, or are we losing them?
3. How well do our audiences retain the information we present?
4. How well did this story structure work with this particular audience?
5. How do we close the gap between the metrics we wanted, and the metrics we got?
If we're asking questions mostly from Group A, it reveals that our orientation leans toward the "looks" of PowerPoint. All of these questions can easily be answered by individual presenters, based on their own personal tastes and preferences. There's no need to ask anyone else, because the questions exist independent of any particular corporate strategy, or audience. And since these are all "opinion" questions, we don't tend to think of the need to measure any of them.
Group B is a different case. If we're asking these questions, it reveals that our orientation leans toward the "results" of PowerPoint. None of these questions can easily be answered by individual presenters, because they ask how a particular activity (a PowerPoint presentation) relates to a specific strategy, and audience. In order to answer them, we would have no choice but to find a way to identify a basic set of metrics we could start to apply to our PowerPoint communications.
The differences between the two groups of questions reveal why PowerPoint does not seem to be moving beyond its current state of evolution -- because we have not yet moved beyond un-measured questions of looks and opinions, toward measured questions of results and data.
Many corporations invest massive amounts of money and mindshare into the microscopic measurement of the quality of their processes, products and services. And yet, PowerPoint is mysteriously exempt from the same objective lens. This PowerPoint permissiveness has a very big price, because without PowerPoint metrics, a company and its people are flying blind into a darkened landscape riddled with intellectually-dangerous bullet zones and productivity dead-ends.
What would happen if we began to hold PowerPoint to the same quality standards as every other process, product or service in our organization? I have a feeling a very big mystery would be easily solved.
Tip: If you'd like to start tracking down clues about your PowerPoint results rather than PowerPoint opinions, think about how you could develop a set meaningful metrics that would help you answer the questions in Group B, above. Whatever metrics you choose, you'll only be able to start solving your own PowerPoint puzzles if you're following the right clues, and asking the right questions.