PowerPoint users – and I know there are many of you – don’t be alarmed, but there is a growing body of evidence that many of you run the risk of developing a condition known as template thinking syndrome.
The main symptom of template thinking syndrome is an overwhelming tendency to begin the preparation for any kind of presentation by first transferring all your content onto a series of PowerPoint slides. This invariably leads to the next stage of the syndrome in which the presenter spends some time aimlessly shuffling their slides around until they feel they are beginning to make sense.
At this point, syndrome sufferers delude themselves into believing that their presentation is just about ready to go. They convince themselves that the combination of their carefully prepared slide show and some accompanying explanatory remarks on the day will keep their audience on the edge of their seats.
There is, however, a growing body of evidence that this approach results in audiences that are confused, and ultimately bored. Audiences, in fact, that live in fear of attending their next PowerPoint presentation.
Another fascinating symptom of this syndrome is that close observation of its sufferers reveals the fact that the majority of them have split – or dissociated – personalities. A series of research experiments discovered that if sufferers are instructed to attend a PowerPoint presentation by another presenter, a large number of them attempt to escape by running in the opposite direction, beating their chests and wailing loudly.
But can anything be done to treat or ameliorate the syndrome? In principle yes, but in practice it’s very hard because it demands that sufferers think carefully about each presentation they do, rather than revert to the mindless default of the PowerPoint template, just because it’s easier and takes less time.
Throwing content at an audience in the form of PowerPoint slides and hoping that they’ll make sense of it is a recipe for disaster. Instead, presenters should begin their preparation by working out what it is they want to say and expressing in it in the form of a proposition: a statement that their audience will either agree or disagree with.
A non-propositional statement would be something boring like ‘my day at the zoo’. Whereas, a propositional statement on the same theme would be something like: ‘all zoos should be closed down’, or ‘animals are much happier in zoos than in the wild’.
So next time you are working on a presentation, if you find yourself drifting towards template thinking syndrome, take a break, make yourself a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and dare to think the unthinkable: maybe this presentation doesn’t require PowerPoint at all!