Avoiding death by PowerPoint

TED Talks feature some of the best presentations—and use of slides—ever given on this planet. The TED blog provides us with 10 good tips to creating better slide decks.

all-hands-preparing-to-fail-140715112322-phpapp01_Page_01My favorite tip is No. 1: Think about your slides last. This is absolutely critical for any presentation, no matter how short or unimportant. I like to start with an even simpler question: Do I even need slides at all? Believe it or not, most presentations do not need slides. Period.

People attending your presentation are there to see and hear you. They are not there to see your slides. If all they cared about were the slides, they’d wait for them to show up on a web site and just download them.

The other tips on the TED blog post are excellent. Go read and do your part to make deadly PowerPoint extinct.

Shameful lawyer behavior

After the cloud computing presentation yesterday at the St. Joseph County Bar Association’s Local Practice Seminar, I took some time today to review materials at a web site discussed during the program.

I’m embarrassed by the behavior of this particular attorney. To avoid problems, I won’t name names, but I’ll describe what I saw.

This attorney (who at least has graduated from law school; whether he is admitted I do not know) does not practice law. Instead, he offers technology consulting services. He presents CLE programs around the country, and as a service (as well as a marketing tool, obviously), he puts his slide presentations on his web site where people can download them at no cost. This attorney is a pretty heavy-hitter in the world of law practice management. He’s co-written books with some of the leaders in the field, and they’ve been published by the American Bar Association.

So, always hoping to pick up a point or two, I downloaded a host of them and started reading them. I didn’t get all the way through them.

First, the things are damn ugly. Ugly ugly ugly. They look amateurish, garish, almost screaming. They have way, way too much text on them. (Dude, go read some Presentation Zen materials and clean up your slides.) The consultant puts a bunch of his awards etc. on one slide (with badges of honor copied from web sites). This bothers me because if you’re presenting, I’m assuming you have the credentials—otherwise the conference organizers would not have brought you in.

But what stopped me cold in my tracks was his use of one photograph on a slide. The subject of the photograph was innocuous, but plainly visible was an iStockphoto.com watermark. The purpose of iStockphoto.com is to get royalty-free photographs from photographers to end users. For a modest price (a couple of bucks per image, usually) you get a non-exclusive yet permanent license to use the image. The company that runs iStockphoto.com, understandably, doesn’t want people ripping off its images, so it uses a simple watermark: two diagonal lines running corner to corner with iStockphoto.com in the center.

Rather than coughing up the small fee for the image, this lawyer/consultant just ripped it off. And this really bothers me on a number of levels.

  • His use of the image in this fashion infringes the photographer’s copyright. We lawyers are supposed to respect, honor, and follow the law. We ought to set an example for others.
  • His use of the image ignores the licensing arrangements iStockphoto sets up. Really, you couldn’t pay the couple of bucks so you decide to cheat?
  • He publicly displays his behavior by including the image in his CLE presentation.
  • He does this knowing that his audience is going to be a bunch of LAWYERS!
  • He doesn’t bother to fix the problem before making his slides available to the world.

How does he expect to be taken seriously by a group of attorneys when he’s clearly willing to ignore the rules when it suits him? Perhaps he’s hoping the attorneys aren’t tech savvy enough to notice what he’s done. Whether he’s a scofflaw or he thinks his audience isn’t smart doesn’t matter. That behavior is insulting either way.

Perhaps this is an isolated incident, an accident that slipped through the cracks. It happens to the best of us. But before I put something I’ve prepared out on the Internet for my colleagues to download and use, I would hope that I’ve gone through it carefully to make sure there isn’t anything there that will make me look bad. All this lawyer has done is open himself up to a claim for copyright infringement every time someone downloaded a copy of his presentation.

Oy. I hope this attorney/consultant stumbles across this post and realizes what he’s done. It would be even better if a few attorney/consultants wonder “is he talking about me?” and go double-check their materials online. Regardless, all I know is that I’m not going to use this guy’s site as a resource any longer. The ugly slides with spelling errors I can handle. The “I’m too cheap to pay a pittance to use an image” attitude I can’t.