Over the years I’ve given lots of presentations and attended lots of presentations.

powerpoint alternatives

photo credit: Gue?rgui

I read about it, study it and do what I can to get better at the art. But here’s the deal, I’ll never be a super entertainer, but I care deeply about people getting practical information and that makes me useful – and useful is good.

Of late I’ve become enamored with the idea of understanding how people learn or perhaps more interestingly, how they teach each other. This notion has led me to start experimenting with and exploring alternative presentation formats.

I was talking with my good friend Pam Slim, author of Escape From Cubicle Nation, recently about this and she suggested that she too had grown weary of the expert behind the microphone presenting their expertise.

She had begun to seek ways to lift the audience up and help them teach each other. I find this notion so compelling I’ve been tinkering with ways to create presentations that break the traditional business mold, kill boredom without gimmicks and get audiences truly engaged.

The following five approaches are works in progress, but represent a new presentation point of view that I intend to investigate deeply over the next few years.

Question me this

Imagine showing up to present to a group and instead huddling the group into five or six subgroups each tasked with quickly creating a list of questions about the proposed topic and then stringing a presentation together based solely on the core questions that come from each pod.

Draw on the right side

I recently attended a presentation on retail displays and the presenter handed out art supplies and had each participant create a model that addressed their greatest challenge.

He then took each challenge and broke down both challenge and solution. It was a fascinating learning experience.

Collective collaboration

What would happen if you posed five very relevant questions or challenges to a group and then split the group into five groups and asked them to use their collective expertise to suggest, synthesize and present a solution to their respective question?

Break a case

Taking a nod from the traditional business school case study, present your group with a challenge in the form of a case study or multiple case studies for a large group and ask them to present their solutions or recommendations to the group.

Ask the Google

Split your group into small groups and give each group a problem or task and ask them to research online for a period of time and apply the collective wisdom of the online world to a problem in near real-time.

I know that each of these presentation approaches involve their own set of logistics considerations, but imagine how much a group could learn from each while you the presenter facilitated and provided relative insight instead of another slide deck.

So, help me out, what are some other creative approaches you’ve seen that help raise engagement and kill boredom?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • I embarked on a similar “how can I make this more interactive and less about me blah, blah, blahing” journey about 6 months ago. I spent a lot of timing reading up on how adults learn (wow, are our attention spans short!) and neuroscience. Based on that, here’s one simple thing I started doing to great effect: at the very beginning, ask them why they’re there. Why did they come? What do they hope will be different/better for them after the talk? Then have them write it down (that part is key) and share it with someone else (also key). They are instantly more invested in the talk as this exercise activates a different part of their brain. None of these changes are a revolution in and of themselves, but I’ve found they add up to more learning. Good luck, John!

    • I agree Erica – I’ve used this idea before as well and it’s funny but all of sudden people who didn’t really know or care why they were there create their own reasons and it certainly shifts how they pay attention and participate.

    • Hey, my friend, Erica! We travel in the same “John is the Man” circles!

      These are great ideas. Thanks for compiling and sharing, John.

  • Andy Hanselman

    Love this – think you could apply these techniques to internal team meetings too!

    • Andy , most definitely – it would make these often times dreadful meetings much more engaging and certainly people would feel a greater sense of contribution.

  • John Heaney

    John, I’ve also tried using Edward deBono’s approach (detailed in his book Six Thinking Hats) that splits the audience into six distinct groups, each tasked with a distinct approach. * WHITE HAT: neutral and objective, concerned with facts and figures * RED HAT: the emotional view * BLACK HAT: careful and cautious, the “devil’s advocate” hat * YELLOW HAT: sunny and positive * GREEN HAT: associated with fertile growth, creativity, and new ideas * BLUE HAT: cool, the color of the sky, above everything else-the organizing hat. This approach ensures that the issue discussed is approached from all perspectives and compels people to think in ways different from their instinctive response. And if you want creativity to expand, make groups change hats during the discussion so they have to regroup and adopt an entirely different approach form one they held just 10 minutes before.

    • I’ve got that book in the need to read pile so maybe I’ll move it up a notch or two

  • Steve Drake

    I usually do a pre-survey (via email) of the audience … one of key questions is “What are your 3 expectations of attending this session.” Very similar to Erica’s suggestion. Only, I think I’ll now add Erica’s idea of starting session and after showing their survey responses, asking them to write their expectations and share with a “neighbor.”

    • I try to do that as well and have even interviewed a few participants. You sure can get some immediate buy in when you have a friend or two out there 🙂

  • John Abrena

    Great list of presentation alternatives. I’m quite intrigued by “Break the Case”, and might try it out. Hope they won’t consume a lot of time working on that case study though.

    I often train at our office using mini-games that stimulate their minds into synchronizing with me on what topic I am going to discuss. For example, we do this game we call “exhaust”, where we take turns saying something really relevant about a certain topic. And the topic I’m discussing? Keyword semantics and relevancy. It levels me down on their page, as well as them levelling up regarding the topic.

    First time on Duct Tape Marketing, loving the blog!

    • I do like that exhaust idea John – I think it really does help everyone quickly develop a common language around the topic as well. Glad you found us!

    • Lizza Robb

      Can you say a little more about “exhaust?” I’m intrigued…

  • I suppose the quality of a PowerPoint presentation depends very much on the user. This said, John, these alternative suggestions all seem very creative. Thanks for sharing them. I’d like to try at least one of them in the not-so-distant future.

  • As an educated study circle leader at an adult education association, I have practiced several alternatives to a traditional presentation. I often start with the question: Why are you here? And then give the chance to the participants to introduce themselves and say something about what make them tick… 😉