Slide Tips: The New Universal Language – Rich Moran

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Rich Moran

A 25-year veteran of Silicon Valley, Rich Moran has served as a business consultant, social scientist, best selling author and evangelist for organization effectiveness. His work is derived from his observations as a Partner at Accenture and a lifetime of trying to improve the effectiveness of organizations as well as work in the public sector.

Rich has written five best selling books, including his latest, Nuts, Bolts and Jolts.

To find out more about Rich, visit his blog, Moran at Work

There is a new universal language. It crept in sometime between the advent of the first fax machine and the death of the pager that we wore on our belts.

A quick quiz of most people about the universal language will generate responses like:

  • A kiss. It is the global signal of love although there are very few with whom I want to communicate with this language.
  • The middle finger. Everyone knows what it means and it is not good to be the recipient of the message so this language carries some unfortunate baggage. It is a language that almost always makes someone feel really bad.
  • English. Since most Americans speak no other language, we have imposed this language on the rest of the universe.
  • Music. A preferred language by all but now that MySpace has bazillions of bands and artists on it, there are too many dialects of the language. Which is better, Bach or Beastie Boys?
  • Food. Before salmonella, South Beach Diet and going vegan, this was a good language. Now it seems cluttered with too many celebrity chefs telling you how to communicate in this language
  • Money. Once the banks, the dollar, the stock market and the price of oil recover, this could be a good language again. In the meantime, money is an inconsistent language.


All the communication turmoil leaves just one universal language – PowerPoint.

Bill Gates may go down in history for his riches and for eliminating malaria, but his real contribution will be the creation of PowerPoint as the universal language. It is even being used as a social medium.

Last time I checked Wikipedia’s definition, it said that “a universal language is a hypothetical, historical or mythical language said to be spoken and understood by all or most of the world’s population. … it may be the primary language of all speakers, or the only existing language; in others, it is a fluent secondary language used for communication between groups speaking different primary languages. Some mythological or religious traditions state that there was once a single universal language among all people, or shared by humans and supernatural beings; this is not supported by historical evidence.”

The historical evidence is now all around us.

  • We speak in headlines backed up by a few bullets.
  • Entire books, like Nuts, Bolts and Jolts, are written of just bullets.
  • My children use PowerPoint in their grammar school everyday.
  • Meetings will not start until the projector warms up to show the PowerPoint presentation.
  • The three letters PPT are as well known as FYI, and IBM, LOL.
  • The phrase “Next Steps” is now as welcome as “Free” or “This is Not A Bill.”
  • News organizations, like eWeek, are delivering their stories in slideshows.
  • Companies are being formed to distribute PowerPoint presentations they’re being used as social media.
  • I’m posing my argument in bullets right now.

One of Venrock’s portfolio companies – Slideshare is leading the charge in in this area. New forms and styles of PowerPoint presentations are appearing. People are using PowerPoint to tell stories – like our friend Henry. They are using Slideshare to share heavy files and publish them broadly through the Web.

Next Steps

The good news about PPT is that it is efficient. The bad news is that it is often not effective unless accompanied by a non-virtual person. As a communication tool, it needs to tell a story. That’s all. As the new universal language PowerPoint needs to tell a story. Telling a story in PPT is tricky since, unlike other languages, it does not stand alone when read. It is more like a graphic novel.

The most welcome header in most presentations are the pages that begin with “Summary” or “Conclusion”. It needn’t be the case. Nor should the phrase, “Death by Powerpoint” be one that needs no explanation. Like all languages, the secret is in communicating in it well, not just blabbing on.

One of my friend’s nineteen year old daughters just gave a Powerpoint presentation to her parents to make the case for why she should move in with her boyfriend. It was effective. If Powerpoint can help make that happen, it has indeed become the universal language.

2 Responses to “Slide Tips: The New Universal Language – Rich Moran”

  1. Michael Detroit

    Even if the thoroughly depressing notion that PowerPoint is “the new universal language” is true, it will do nothing to improve anyone’s lot unless those who insist on “speaking” it do with a bit of care, thoughtfulness and proofreading. But that seems highly unlikely. As (seemingly) a dedicated advocate of this epidemic “language”, you offer a fine example of the problem. Your article is as fraught with errors in grammar, punctuation and syntax as most PowerPoint “shows”.

    This bullet point (for example):

    • Companies are being formed to distribute PowerPoint presentations they’re being used as social media.

    What on Earth does that mean? Never mind. I suppose I can figure it out if I think about it long enough. But the first sentence in the article’s final paragraph is a true masterwork:

    “One of my friend’s nineteen year old daughters just gave a Powerpoint presentation to her parents…”

    Your friend (singular) has 19 year-old daughters? Your friend (yes, singular) has more than one 19-year-old daughter? Or did you mean you have more than one friend who, maybe collectively, have either 19 year-old daughters or some number of 19-year-old daughters? (In which case, you also meant friends’ rather than friend’s.) By the time the sentence ends, we are left wondering exactly who is moving in with whose boyfriend.

    That sentence leaves me not so much searching for meaning (as I found several possible meanings in a single reading, in spite of the pretzel-esque sentence construction), but actually fearing for the future of a beautiful, already living language – Engish – in a world where the abomination whose name is PowerPoint might actually be thought of as language.

    Please, for the love of whatever good is left on the planet, reconsider your enthusiasm for christening a “brave new language” until more of its potential “speakers” develop a healthier respect for English.

  2. Jesse

    I must say you are forward-thinking, and got some insight into a rather everyday tool.
    Honest to its name, it is to make your “points” come across powerfully. It is most effective when frame work or facts are summarized in presentation. I would never use it in my coaching session with corporate executives, or telling bedtime stories with my kids. It is a tool, not a language to me.
    And by the way, in China, I spotted more than once they use middle finger to point in their PPT presentations. So that finger gesture is still not universal yet. Thank God!