I’ve been giving talks, lectures, and presentations in one form or another for more than 15 years. If you count my time in television news, the experience level shoots through the roof. (Visual storytelling is a form of presentation.) I’ve used video, Powerpoint, big goofy props, custom art, computer graphics, and the web itself. My favorite tool is probably the dry-erase board.
I have two of them over my desk, within writing reach. I scribble notes there instead of on post-its, and by the end of the day all of the chicken-scratch must be filed or stored in some electronic (and machine-searchable) format. That way I lose nothing, and the office stays theoretically neater. I tried writing short notes in Word or Notepad or Journal, but couldn’t keep up. The Whiteboard is just too versatile and simple.
The right tool will give you the flexibility to improvise, and the canvas to express ideas. A couple of years ago, I developed a 13-week Bible class in Galatians that I refuse to teach until I have a large enough Whiteboard. Powerpoint just won’t cut it. There’s no engagement with the class, no interaction. You can’t incorporate their good ideas and suggestions if the next slide is already locked in.
A few years ago, Tim Russert set election technology back several years by tallying electoral votes on a hand-held dry-erase board. It was chided by many as too simple, even hard to read. Then, just a couple of months ago, UPS rolls out one of the neatest
The ads were genius, because they suck you in. You see the picture evolving in front of you, in real time. The diagrams so smartly laid out, they tell a complete story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The lines that once were lines were partially erased, becoming an arrow in the other direction. Brilliance! The ads always had my attention, and unlike Super Bowl Ad Syndrome, I actually remembered they were UPS ads. Effective, likeable, engaging, sticky, and scored solid corporate points of competitive differentiation.
Then, they blew it.
Within the past few days, UPS has rolled out more of the [Whiteboard](http://ups.com/whiteboard) ads, now with a disturbing new element: motion. Instead of seeing a real dry-erase board, we’re now treated to animated conveyor belts and spinning wheels. It’s cheapened the whole effect. I have no interest in watching the commercials anymore.
**The Human Effect**
Presentations are more than the material, and more than the medium. They are also function of the moderator. If the person carrying the water isn’t likeable, trustworthy, or believable, then no one will take a drink. The UPS Whiteboard ads were once stark in their simplicity – it really could have been just a little window allowing us to see another human at work. No tricks, no stunts. You could do those ads live.
Only now, you can’t. The trickery of modern presentation has added a new bell and a new whistle, yet the result is tone-deaf. I don’t identify with it anymore, because it’s no longer something I can “do.” At least before, there was an inspiration that a little imagination and creativity could make the Whiteboard sing, given that Powerpoint’s notes are more flat than sharp. Instead, the signature ad must take a rest, because someone couldn’t refrain from a measure of improvement.
Featuritis creeps into many of our communications, whether ads, presentations, or other. Much of what we do and say would be better off if we took the time to strip away layers instead of adding them. Making the sale, making the pitch, or making the point – it’s easier to connect with humans being human. Unnecessary technology gets in the way, and keeps your message from finding a home.
UPS: Get the animation off my Whiteboard. I want to see what Brown alone can do for me.
*Ike Pigott’s work with social media tools in times of crisis and disaster has been cited often as a case study within that field. A former journalist and Emmy-winning writer, Ike founded [Positive Position Media Consulting](http://positiveposition.com/) through which he has coached hundreds of managers and executives for media interviews and crisis situations. He’s a regular contributor at [Now Is Gone](http://nowisgone.com), and writes about communications at [Occam’s RazR](http://occamsrazr.com/).*