‘Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information’ by David Byrne

Before fronting the band Talking Heads, David Byrne attended Rhode Island School of Design and Maryland Institute College of Art. Despite a very successful career in music, Byrne also wrote and produced for film, produced works of visual art that are on display in contemporary galleries and museums, and gave a TED Talk in 2010 about the effects of architecture on music.

While Byrne has built a name for himself as a musician, writer, actor, and filmmaker; it’s his graphic design and visual artistry that are the key focus here. In 2003, Byrne released ‘Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information’ – a boxed set that included a 96-page book and 20-minute DVD of animation accompanied by his music. What was so revolutionary about this release was the fact that all animations were designed in PowerPoint.

Byrne claims his obsession with PowerPoint began as a joke. “I was doing mock sell presentation, using mock PowerPoint slides as visual aids,” he explained to The New York Times. “That’s how I learned the program originally. But then it evolved into something else. It was no longer enough to make fun of the corporate stuff. I realized that PowerPoint was a limited but a valid medium.”

The DVD itself is fascinating as Byrne uses PowerPoint’s templates and commonly seen graphic icons to create a psychedelic work of surreal abstraction. Byrne recognised the graphic limitations of PowerPoint and used animation to convey the uniquity of the software and its graphic elements.

This encapsulates what we at Synapsis Creative have always strived towards – pushing the creative limits of PowerPoint to demonstrate its versatility and flexibility. Many people are unable to see beyond the standard images, fonts, and Clipart that have plagued PowerPoint presentations for decades. The real lesson here is that we should never feel confined because of software – real artists find creativity everywhere. And PowerPoint is for more than presentations.

‘An Inconvenient Truth’ by Al Gore

‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is an academy-award documentary based on a presentation Al Gore had been touring for several years previous. The film shows various venues and iterations Gore’s slideshow that shook up the 2006 Oscars and reignited climate-change discussions globally.

Admittedly, Gore’s presentations were built on Keynote and the film’s production team noted the software’s ability to import and export images and video content at high resolution. The team also used Avid Software to cut between photos, animation, and video clips seamlessly for the film itself.

Co-producer of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, Lesley Chilcott said the best asset of Keynote software was its easy learning curve and speed, especially since the production team had no previous experience using Keynote. “We were dropping, altering and adding slides less than an hour before we were to shoot,” she explained.

PowerPoint is a design program made for multimedia capacity. While the production team of ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ were able to learn and use Keynote so quickly and effectively, they still needed a second software program for creating the film. PowerPoint is a full-suite solution to designing and editing multimedia.

‘An Inconvenient Truth’ demonstrated that presentation design can not only win artistic accolades but create a positive social impact and inspire new generations of activists and lawmakers. Like all good presentations, Gore’s film hits the trinity of purposes: informing the audience, persuading viewers of the issue and urgency, and then motivates people into action.

iPhone Launch Presentation by Steve Jobs

January 2007 was a truly historic moment in technology when Apple’s Steve Jobs stepped onto stage at MacWorld Expo, San Francisco. Job unveiled the first iPhone and, like the accompanying press release also stated, Apple had ‘reinvented the phone’. This wasn’t just a catchy and repeatable sound bite that Jobs stated five times during his presentation – it was PC World’s event recap headline the following day.

Jobs’ unveiling of the iPhone was iconic because while the keynote itself went for two hours, everyone in attendance knew the crux of his presentation within the first couple minutes. Always the gifted storyteller, Jobs kicked things off brilliantly and kept the audience captivated throughout his presentation. Read his opening remarks and see for yourself:

“In 2001, we introduced the first iPod and it didn’t just change the way we listened to music. It changed the entire music industry. Well today we’re introducing three revolutionary products of this class. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device. So three things: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device. An iPod, a phone and an Internet communicator. An iPod, a phone… are you getting it? These are not separate devices. This is one device. And we are calling it iPhone.”

That opening statement is 111 words and ends with some classic misdirection that keeps the audience guessing. “These are not separate devices” has basically been Apple’s mantra since Jobs’ death – Apple Watch combined the iPhone with a basic Fitbit, while HomePods combined the smart features of Apple’s previous releases (such as Siri) with an overpriced portable speaker.

This presentation was also built on Keynote since Apple wouldn’t dare use a competitor’s product to promote its own. However, Jobs’ unveiling of the first iPhone is a masterclass in presentation for a couple reasons.

  • People were lined up days before MacWorld Expo to guarantee good seats and Apple didn’t open the hall doors until ten minutes before the event. Since the audience didn’t have to wait in the conference hall for too long, they were hyped, receptive, and eager.
  • Repeating the idea that Apple’s new device would ‘reinvent the phone’ became a memorable tagline for the event, which was a deliberate marketing choice by Jobs and an effective way to summarise the presentation’s purpose.
  • Jobs dazzled people with bold promises and surprising statistics. He called the iPhone a “revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone”. And Job was totally right – the iPhone basically set the blueprint for all smartphones from that day forward.
  • The feature that drew audible gasps from attendees was the simplicity of scrolling on the touchscreen, especially the ‘rubber band’ effect (also known as inertial scrolling) when users try to scroll past the end of a displayed document or webpage. Seeing Jobs scroll through the new interface felt like the phone had been placed directly in the audiences’ hands. Interactivity can really help elevate presentations.

Each of these examples demonstrate how good presentations can change people’s perception towards PowerPoint, global warming, or smartdevices. While two of them were created in Keynote, they can still teach presentation designers a thing or two about engaging audiences. As we shift towards more webinar experiences, learn how to adapt live presentation fundamentals for a digital audience with our Ultimate Guide to Webinar.