Presentation Management 27: The Humanity of Presentations, from Cave Paintings to PowerPoint and Back Again

Presentation Management 27: The Humanity of Presentations, from Cave Paintings to PowerPoint and Back Again

Created: Friday, July 1, 2022, posted by at 9:30 am

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Original content by AlexAnndra Ontra and James Ontra
Enhanced by Geetesh Bajaj

In the previous part of this Presentation Management series of posts, we explored the future of presenting. In this concluding part, we will look back and paraphrase what we learned.

We’ve been presenting to each other before the word “present” ever made it into our vernacular. And we’ve forced ourselves to adjust and adapt to whatever technology was available at the time.

Cave paintings were likely the earliest form of presentation. Moses’ Ten Commandments on two stone tablets were a form of presentation. Today, they might very well be two slides with five bullet points each. Then we evolved to paintings on wood and canvas, to still life photography and four-color printing, and then video.

Ten Commandments

Ten Commandments
Image: 123RF

Kodak Carousel

Kodak Carousel
Image: Wikipedia
In the latter half of the 20th century, businesses and universities relied on photographic slides shown on a Kodak Carousel. Slides were made of glass or film and were photographed and developed. After that, they were painstakingly placed in a specific order that could not be altered. Given the amount of work and skill required to create the slides, a presentation was a formal business event that usually took weeks to prepare. The lights were off so you could see the slides, and you’d hear the voice of the presenter, and the click of the carousel. Click-click, next slide please. Click-click. Next slide.

That gave way to the overhead projector with transparencies. Transparencies were faster and easier to create. You could write on them with a grease pen or even run them through a copy machine. The lead time required was much less than a slideshow, even though the quality was not as good. But again, the lights needed to be off so the audience could see the screen. The experience was a little mysterious and somewhat removed. The speaker was a voice in the dark. You couldn’t see his face, and he couldn’t see yours. And when the presentation ended, the lights were turned back on. It was jarring as your eyes adjusted, like waking up from a cozy sleep because someone tore open the curtains.

PowerPoint version 1 - What The Box ContainsEnter PowerPoint. Its first iteration was really a software form of the carousel – a slideshow.  PowerPoint was, and still is, fast and easy, with lots of cool effects, animations, fonts, colors, and charts. Where slideshows were once reserved for the most important presentations, PowerPoint could be used in all meetings because it was so easy and inexpensive that anyone could make a presentation. (Though, we admit, some are much better at it than others.) PowerPoint made slideshows mainstream. To this day, it remains such a powerful business tool that it has not only changed the way we present in meetings and classrooms, it has also changed the way we write, speak and communicate in general. Bullet points and outlines replaced long-form prose. Though misguided and certainly not recommended, Relying on slides became a crutch for spontaneous discussion and debate. While it made it easier to speak in front of a room, the rigid nature of a linear slide show replaced spontaneous discussion.

Yet spontaneous discussion, where we share our ideas with each other, is the best way to learn.

James Bond - The Ultimate-Interactive Dossier

James Bond - The Ultimate-Interactive DossierWhile PowerPoint was taking off in the early ’90s, CD-ROM encyclopedias were also gaining popularity. CD-ROMs offered libraries of multimedia – pictures, video, text, and other information – on a disc. They were a form of interactive, multimedia books. One of the first interactive books created for MGM was “James Bond – The Ultimate Interactive Dossier.” It was an encyclopedic reference to all things James Bond. The explosive action shots, the different James Bond actors, the beautiful Bond girls, the evil villains, and the stunning locations. Type in Pussy Galore and you’d be transported back to 1964 (before #MeToo) to read a synopsis and watch a video of Honor Blackman flying over Fort Knox in Goldfinger.  It contained pictures, videos, story synopses, and even a trivia game. You could play the CD on your computer and browse the library or do a keyword search to find your favorite villain. It was an interactive media library where all of the content was formatted to present – all the content was a slide. One interesting development from this was that James Bond aficionados would use the Dossier as a reference, as proof, as they were debating and discussing various James Bond storylines and characters. And although CD-ROMs soon became antiquated, this was an early example of the presentation following the conversation. These were great advances in presentation technology, but we were still tethered to a machine. We were a captive audience.

Now the Presentation Follows the Conversation

Better presentation strategy combined with technological advances is transforming presentations into enterprise assets – enterprise PowerPoint. Today, presentations are a mashup of all sorts of media and files – PowerPoints, but also images, videos, PDFs, Word, Excel, audio, etc. They are structured content, formatted as slides, and ready to present. Presentations are now a branding element in the marketing mix, along with advertising, public relations, digital, and collateral. Presentation content is designed, written, approved, executed, and measured for the benefit of the entire organization, at the corporate level. Yet, the employees still maintain flexibility and control over their individual meetings and tasks. After all, who knows better what to present to a prospect than the salesperson who just had an in-depth conversation with that same prospect the week before the big meeting? Corporate marketing has control over the brand and message and can track its use, while users in the field have flexibility. It’s a win-win for both corporate marketing and the team in the field.

PowerPoint and Back Again

PowerPoint and Back Again
Image: 123RF

Advances in interactive technology have allowed presentations to be more conversational. Search and interactive features allow presenters to zoom into a particular slide, based on the feedback and cues that their audience members are giving them. No sooner does someone from the audience ask a question than the presenter is able to present content directly addressing the question. Presenters can build a presentation as they go, customizing directly to the mindset of the meeting attendees. Linear slideshows are becoming a thing of the past.

With presentation management, today’s structured presentations follow the conversation.

But tomorrow, the conversation will dictate the presentation.

This is the last post of this series.

Presentation Management Series: All Posts

All posts from the Presentation Management series are listed on this page, Presentation Management: The Entire Series.


First, try and answer these questions. Feel free to read the post again if needed. Then, scroll down below the author profiles to find the answers.

Q1: In the latter half of the 20th century, businesses and universities relied on photographic slides shown on carousels. Which company created these carousels?

Q2: Are linear slideshows becoming a thing of the past?

AlexAnndra Ontra

AlexAnndra Ontra
AlexAnndra Ontra, co-founder of Shufflrr, is a leading advocate for presentation management. She has been providing presentation technology and consulting services to global enterprises for over 15 years.

At Shufflrr, Alex advises Shufflrr clients through the process: from trial to content architecture, through the launch, training, and then on-going software upgrades. She’s hands-on. She is a leading expert in presentation management strategy, implementation, and adaptation.


James Ontra

James Ontra
James Ontra is co-founder and CEO of Shufflrr.  His 30-year career has focused on the highest profile presentations for world class companies.  His clients have included:  American Express, Bloomberg, Epcot Center, Mercedes Benz, NBC Olympics, Warner Bros. and many more.

His vision and strategy have been driving Presentation Management to become a recognized communication discipline. James combined this passion with technical development to build Shufflrr. Presentation Management is smart communication strategy.


Geetesh Bajaj

Geetesh Bajaj
Geetesh Bajaj is an awarded Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional), and has been designing and training with PowerPoint for more than two decades. He heads Indezine, a presentation design studio and content development organization based out of Hyderabad, India.

Geetesh believes that any PowerPoint presentation is a sum of its elements–these elements include abstract elements like story, consistency, and interactivity — and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation. He explains how these elements work together in his training sessions. He has also authored six books on PowerPoint and Microsoft Office.

Quiz Answers

A1: The carousels used to show photographic slides were from Kodak, and were commonly known as Kodak carousels.

A2: Yes indeed. Presenters can build a presentation as they go, customizing directly to the mindset of the meeting attendees. Linear slideshows are becoming a thing of the past.

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