(This is a reprint of an article I wrote and published in 2010. It is being republished in honor of the retirement of David Harnish, who was Corporate Manager of “Meetings and Media” at Walgreens for 38 years. In this case “Media” means meeting openers, sales videos, interactive training CD’s and DVD’s, a Corporate Video Network, training and motivational videos, theatrical stage management and much more).

I love slides. Grew up with them, made shows with them., started a business with them, made friends with them, won awards with them.


The Kodak Carousel

Today, the word “slides” has a revised but logical meaning: Powerpoint slides (or Keynote, if you prefer). If you hear someone say “slide deck”, this is what they mean… “electronic” slides…. computer slides.

On LinkedIn, there is an ongoing discussion on whether speakers should uses slides or not. Actually, the very thought is even more daunting to these “Presentation Gurus” (the name of the group): the question was really “Is there ever a time when a speaker shouldn’t use slides?”

Here’s my quick answer:

Average speaker: No. Always use slides.

Good speaker: Maybe, depending on the size of the crowd. But take advice from a pro PowerPoint person or consultant.

Great Speaker: Yes, go without slides if you can see the eyes of everyone in the room. Or:

Great Speaker: No, use slides, if you’re speaking before 500 or up. Great speakers can use slides effortlessly, have slides that are appropriate and not overwritten, probably don’t even look at them during the presentation, and in many cases have an a-v technician changing the slides for him or her.

The best speaker I ever saw— and he always used slides- was former Chairman and CEO of Walgreens Dan Jorndt.

He could hold a room of 5000 or more in the palm of his hand. No podium. He danced across the stage, in a whirlwind of positive thought. His speeches were carefully written, but delivered in a breezy style that allowed for adlibbing, which he often did- or seemed to at any rate.

But Mr. Jorndt had a secret weapon. Behind the screen, or in the booth, and- for much of his career- behind a computer, was the head of the Walgreens Meetings and Media department, David Harnish. David is an important person at Walgreens. I fear the executives still don’t know HOW important. He is the keeper of the flame, the corporate culture, and the internal audio-visual face of Walgreens. He knows video, interactive, asset management, and of course, slides. And he knows creative communications better than any client I ever had.

Slides more recently means PowerPoint. But David started at Walgreens literally making “real” physical slides, first primarily on an early computer graphics system using Zenographics software, later via video on the TVL electronic presentation system, and today, on PowerPoint. Don’t get me wrong: David no longer pushes buttons; but he continues to set the standard for how slides should support speakers, not dominate them.

He knows how many words to use, what photos or graphics are necessary, and what fonts work and don’t work. He knows layout and balance, much of it which might “break the rules” of the way PowerPoint wants you to lay things out.

Whether it was multiple slide projector speaker support, or TVL electronic slide speaker support, videodisc, or PowerPoint speaker support, David and Dan Jorndt made each other look great.

Now understand, I think Dan is a great speaker without slides. But with slides? Oh, my.

So, to slide or not to slide, that is the question. When you’ve got a great speaker and a great support team, the answer isn’t so black and white.


Brien Lee is President and Creative Director of Brien Lee Creative, a New Jersey based communications and video production consultancy. An award winning writer-director, Brien has produced sales meetings, videos, web video, direct mail CD’s and DVD’s, and specialized in the creation of video-based websites that sell and inform his customers audiences. He has been in the communications business for more than 40 years, and has worked with companies like Walgreens, AT&T, Johnson Controls, Mercury Marine, the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, and others. His website can be found at www.videostory.com.

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