Medium vs. Message

When it comes to AEC presentations to clients, Marshall McLuhan had it all wrong.  The medium is NOT the message.  Media are vehicles for messaging and each vehicle has its pros and cons, things it does better or worse, audience sizes for which it is more or less suited.  The challenge comes when we get attached to a medium, which usually occurs out of either novelty or habit.

Medium novelty occurs when a new presentation medium comes to market. People find it, start to use it, think it’s cool and, suddenly, want to use it for everything.  Prezi is a recent example, but a similar phenomenon occurred when PowerPoint was introduced.  Let me spin an exaggerated yarn to make my point.

Once upon a time somebody at an AEC firm found PowerPoint, thought it was cool, used it, and impressed an interview committee, who told other competitors in a debrief that, “boy, that PowerPoint thingy they used was pretty cool.”  Soon everybody had to have PowerPoint and use it for every presentation they made.  Trouble is, PowerPoint is a great medium for some kinds of presentation situations — large group situations first thing in the morning spring immediately to mind– but then somebody uses it for a small group in a dark room right after lunch on a warm day and the audience begins dozing off and that group loses the work and hears, “yourPowerPoint really put us to sleep”. Thus that firm issues an edict to marketing that goes something like, “no more PowerPoint presentations, ever.”  And the cycle continues.  While my example is a bit over the top, I suspect you’ve experienced a milder version at some point.

Medium habit is similarly challenging.  In this case, for example, somebody decides that a medium, any medium, is the way this firm presents.  Think of a firm you know that always uses boards or always uses Prezi for example.  Marketing then goes on auto-pilot, presenting versions of the same medium for multiple different presentations. Over time, marketing has a library of materials tailored to a specific medium, which reinforces the use of that medium because it’s easier and faster to recycle and minimally revise than to do things differently. Thus, even if change is good, it’s perceived as too much work.

My suggestion is that we review and unpack the inherent advantages and disadvantages of any presentation medium we come across, then pick the medium that is best suited to the size of group, type of room, time of day, type of information to get across and needs of the presentation team for each individual presentation.

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