Life by PowerPoint


I’m going to level with you: I’ve sat through an awful lot of dreadful PowerPoint presentations. I’m guessing you have too. But, last week, I spent two very happy hours hooked by the presentation of a man armed with nothing more than a deck of slides, a long bamboo stick and a pile of toilet rolls.

The speaker in question is Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health, adviser to the World Health Organisation and many other aid agencies, founder of the Gapminder Foundation and the brains behind the now-Google-owned Trendalyzer. He was introduced as ‘the king of data’. So what is it about a humble Swede that has captivated everybody from TED audiences to my in-laws?

The list is long. He’s funny, affable and sees the real lives behind the big data. He uses audience participation, encourages challenges to his thinking and throws in the occasional outburst of “you’re the crème de la crème, do I have to teach you the bloody data as well?”. He broadens your own knowledge, makes the complex look simple and, perhaps best of all, spreads confidence that we can eradicate extreme poverty in our lifetime.

In a room filled with senior NGO executives and World Bank investors, Hans effortlessly got to the root of many of the challenges we face every day – “you continually present poverty to your donors, when you yourselves know just how much progress has already been made”; “the greatest inequality in the world isn’t health, it’s investment”; “gender inequality simply isn’t about primary education any more – 45% of children not going to primary school are boys – the problems for girls now begin around the age of 14”. He brought themes to life, made them seem urgent, surmountable, necessary. At a time when charities are under greater scrutiny than ever before, how much longer can we frame the reality in a way that suits our story?

I left the room feeling more energised, more knowledgeable and more determined to make every presentation better. Maybe you can join me in this pledge: no more Death by PowerPoint.

Oh yes, and what about the pile of toilet rolls? Well, why not set aside a couple of hours of your life and enjoy Hans’ lecture for yourself?