Ebooks and the true potential of the PowerPoint format

I was enjoying reading an e-book from Riverfork Consulting titled A Brief Guide to Change by Design, which talks about implementing a series changes in our life by acquiring the "just do it" attitude and reframing (=redesigning) our habits. Sounds overwhelming, but the techniques introduced are easy to implement and allow us to discover more about ourselves on the way. It was also compact, consumable in 15 minutes or so. As the title says, it was well-designed, similar to a Powerpoint presentation. In a good way.

Powerpoint is long considered a tool for stage performance, Steve Jobs being the most effective and drastic example of all: his presentations are just one-man stage shows backed by numbers. Powerpoint is also a strong tool to hide from stage performance for many people, including yours truly. Paul Graham says:

For example, the stated purpose of Powerpoint is to present ideas. Its real role is to overcome people's fear of public speaking. It allows you to give an impressive-looking talk about nothing, and it causes the audience to sit in a dark room looking at slides, instead of a bright one looking at you.

Therefore, the standard advice for formatting Powerpoint slides has been to make them simple. Guy Kawasaki famously declared the 10/20/30 rule: a powerpoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain font no smaller than thirty points.

But live performance is not the only usage of Powerpoint. I have seen people using Powerpoint slides as substitutes for complicated documents, again including myself. Whenever someone prepares a presentation for project status report or new product introduction, we always ask the copy of the slide for reference, print them out, and reuse in other reports. The original Gantt chart and product specifications are usually left down in the network hard drive, managed only by the original author.

Why keep reusing Powerpoint slides? Because they summarize the key information. The irony is, the more sloppy (=wordy) the slides become, the better summary note they turn into. Non-sophisticated presenters tend to use their slides as executive summaries and THAT's what we want to read. Presentations from master speakers such as Seth Godin are sometimes too simplified as documents.

The presentation-format reading files are aptly called e-books, pioneered by Changethis, who utilized the presentation style and converted it into an e-book format. Even the aforementioned proponents of simple presentations seem to admit Powerpoint style has merits for reading; for example, the above-mentioned Guy Kawasaki has published on Changethis platform.

There is another strong backup from the hardware side: the tide of e-book readers. Sony experimented it, Amazon nailed it with Kindle, and Apple is going to expand it to mass market with the upcoming (as of today) Tablet.

As reading on screen becomes our norm, the book format will slowly drift away from the traditional, vertical, wordy format into the presentation format: landscape orientation, consumable in less than 30 minutes, oriented for computer screen.

The followings are other Powerpoint-style free e-books I strongly recommend. Both are terrific reads.