Business Week Interview with Contest Winner Dan Roam

October 5, 2009

Carmine Gallo had a quick interview with our World's Best Presentation Contest winner Dan Roam. Dan is amazingly insightful in his answers so we wanted to publish it for the SlideShare community. Enjoy!

Q: What was the purpose of explaining health care with stick figures and napkins?

A: Like many people, I became concerned about the direction the health care debate had taken in this country. The anger, anxiety, and frustration we saw at the town halls told me that we lacked a common understanding of the issues actually on the table; nobody had drawn the health care "big picture" to explain what anyone was talking about. The result is chaos. I decided to draw that picture, and to draw it as simply as possible in order to establish a clear baseline for deeper discussions. I learned long ago that when helping executives clarify their ideas, nothing is more powerful than a simple hand-drawn sketch. The less polished, the better; the more "human", the better. When introducing a new idea, people react much better to a work-in-progress than a polished presentation.

Q: This is hugely different than the vast majority of business presentations and I’m sure you don’t recommend that everyone copy this template. However, what is the common principle that applies to anyone’s presentation?

A: On the contrary, I DO recommend that everyone copy this approach. If we really want our audience to engage and understand, we must create presentations that invite our audiences in. Simple, hand-drawn pictures draw people in. Preaching to our audience through bullet points or overwhelming them with mounds of undifferentiated data does not. The standard PowerPoint approach actually closes down discussion. If we really want to make our message stand out, we have to make it look human.
What is the key takeaway/learning from Back of the Napkin?

Three quarters of the neurons in our brain that process incoming sensory information are focused on vision. While most people in business think they can't draw (they can) or that they're "not visual" (they are), we can all get infinitely better at discovering, developing, and sharing new ideas by taking advantage of our innate "visual thinking" system: our eyes, our minds-eye, and our ability to draw simple shapes.

Q: Dan, your presentation looks like it’s created in PowerPoint. So, PowerPoint is not evil? Your thoughts?

A: For good or for bad, PowerPoint has become the standard tool for communication. Because of its ubiquity and the ease with which PowerPoint makes lazy thinking look "professional", it's easy to malign PowerPoint as evil. But PowerPoint is just a tool. It's a hammer. We don't blame the hammer if the building falls down; we blame the builder. The same applies here. As a simple framework for telling a linear story, PowerPoint is fine. We get in trouble when we let all the unnecessary polishing tools in the menus do the our thinking for us.

Q: Finally, all the winners are highly visual. Does this represent the new trend in PowerPoint design?

A: Using visuals isn't just a trend in PowerPoint design; using pictures to think, work, and share is the dominant business communication trend of our time, period. Which makes sense: in a globalized business world where we likely don't speak the same first language as our colleagues and where we face problems of such complexity that they defy words, pictures are the answer.