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Qualitative PowerPoint Reports: From Bullet Points to Poetry

September 15, 2010

Xandert
Boring:  Too Many Bullet Points in Powerpoint

What’s Wrong with PowerPoint?

The denunciation of PowerPoint presentations as boring and superficial is not new.  See “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint” and “Dumb-Dumb Bullets“ in which two of the many criticisms are that (a) for certain kinds of data and in certain contexts, complete sentences and paragraphs are necessary and incompatible with PowerPoint, and (b) bullet points that say too little are meaningless and can be misleading, especially when the slide format is slavishly adhered to in ways that put form over substance.

Whose Fault is it—PowerPoint, or the PowerPoint User?

As pointed out in Ray Poynter’s “In Praise of PowerPoint,” PowerPoint offers a number of options beyond simplistic use of bullet points.  And compared to other presentation vehicles, it offers a number of user-friendly features not found elsewhere (such as, for example, re-sizing of photos without distortion, and the slide sorter which allows for easy organization of slides). So, lazy or unimaginative ways of using PowerPoint may be more to blame than the platform itself.

PowerPoint Innovations–Zen, Rules, Poetry Slams

Since the early days of PowerPoint, there has been a call to move away from word-packed presentations to presentations that are briefer and less “busy.”  For example:

  • Garr Reynolds’ “Zen PowerPoint” recommends visual design that is “simple but not simplistic,” and consistent with the context and objectives of the presentation.
  • A more directive and rule-governed approach is the 10/20/30 rule which requires that a PowerPoint presentation should “have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.”
  • And a more extreme approach is “Pechakucha” (Japanese for “chatter”) applies a rule of 20 slides for 20 seconds each.  At its best, “the result … combines business meeting and poetry slam to transform corporate cliché into surprisingly compelling beat-the-clock performance art.”

Qualitative Research:  If used right, PowerPoint offers the potential to:

  • Tell a story.  That doesn’t mean plowing through the findings and then briefly listing implications.  Rather, it means presenting findings in a way that represents consumer experience in a certain context and what that experience means for marketing purposes.  The sequence of the story is ideally determined by the context of that experience (not, for example, by the order of the discussion guide).
  • Support the story with a consistent theme.  Color, layout, and graphic design elements should coincide with the context and message  of the findings, rather than competing with them.
  • Reveal different dimensions of consumer experience.  PowerPoint tools allow you to add texture, in the same way that poetry does, by engaging the imagination as well as the literal mind. Texture may come in the form of stock photos, graphics, verbatims, music, animation, or any other device that helps convey the depth and breadth of consumer experience.  So for example:
    • A respondent’s collage showing a butterfly in flight or someone hanged in a cell shows a different side of brand imagery than a verbal description ever could;
    • Stock photos of consumer segments as “handles” bring them to life as actual (virtual) people rather than a list of bullet points; or
    • In package design studies, visual mock-ups of where the yellow highlight should go, or the desired font size  “new and improved” — show at a glance what respondents want to see when looking, for example, in the cereal aisle.

The point is, a qualitative presentation should not try to be all things at once.  It’s not a stand-in for more detailed description, nor should it be a breezy document with stray bullet points.   At best, it’s thought provoking, informative, and entertaining, as is true of art.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2010 7:10 pm

    >Betsy,I "so" agree with what you've said here. Bullet points can be like fingernails on a chalkboard. They often say nothing of relevance, without the presenter's commentary, and sadly all to often with it.

  2. Andrea permalink
    March 27, 2012 8:06 pm

    Why don’t we use more videos than .PPT reports?
    Take a look at this: http://www.andrealombardi.com/?page_id=47
    (sorry it still is in italian, as soon as possible I’ll complete the english part as well)

    • March 28, 2012 9:17 pm

      I agree with video reports, as well as other bells and whistles to make the research come alive! I can see them being used in conjunction with each other, with content determining how much of each.

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