About a year ago, I started using a service called SlideShare. The idea is pretty simple. You can upload PowerPoint presentations and it converts them into Flash presentations. These new presentations can then be shared and embedded just about anywhere. It’s all very Web 2.0.
Since I’ve been using SlideShare for awhile, I was happy to get a chance to chat on Monday with SlideShare co-founders Rashmi Sinha and Jonathan Boutelle. The company is announcing two new services today that are noteworthy, if for nothing else, because they will move SlideShare into earning revenues in ways besides advertising. And since I think ad-supported business models are mostly doomed to fail, I applaud them for moving into new revenue models.
But as we chatted, and as I thought about presentations, I was struck by just how important such presentations have become in our culture. Indeed, corporate presentations have improbably become a form of entertainment. It says a lot about how our relationship to business and celebrity has been transformed in the digital era.First, the news being announced today: SlideShare is offering new ways for businesses to generate leads and for people to get their presentations noticed. The services are called AdShare and LeadShare. Using LeadShare, companies can get upload their various marketing material, and SlideShare will get somewhere between $1 to $22 for each lead generated. Using AdShare, a user can promote their presentations throughout the site.
SlideShare just celebrated its third birthday and has raised angel and venture investments totalling $3 million. The co-founders expect the new revenue streams to make up the bulk of the site’s revenue within a year, and also predict it will at least be cash-flow positive in that time frame.
But here’s what go me thinking about that larger idea: SlideShare has 1.5 million registered users. They’ve uploaded more than 2 million presentations. And the site gets 20 million unique visitors each month.
To watch PowerPoints.
Now, I’d laugh at these people if I weren’t one of them. Somehow, these presentations have left the dimly lit confines of conference rooms and trade shows to take their place as new forms of art and expression. Business has become entertainment. Every middle manager, every developer, is expected to act and perform with the charisma of a seasoned showman. And their “slides,” their PowerPoints, are the key ingredient in their ability to dazzle us.
Just check out this SlideShare page that highlights the winners of its recent World’s Best Presentations Contest. The winner:
It’s not just SlideShare, though, where one can view this new art and entertainment form.
I’ve developed a cult-like obsession with TED videos. These are more than corporate topics, exploring innovation across a number of areas such as science, politics, medicine and society. But still, they’re basically videos of someone standing on a stage, giving a talk while slides glide past them on a giant screen.
On a more grassroots level, Ignite gatherings have become a phenomenon. According to the Ignite site:
If you had five minutes on stage what would you say? What if you only got 20 slides and they rotated automatically after 15 seconds? Around the world geeks have been putting together Ignite nights to show their answers.
Ignite was started in Seattle in 2006 by Brady Forrest and Bre Pettis. Since then 100s of 5 minute talks have been given across the world. There are thriving Ignite communities in Seattle, Portland, Paris, and NYC.
Here’s just one sample Ignite presentation:
Fortunately, there’s a whole industry of folks devoted to helping people put such presentations together. Folks like Nancy Duarte whose recent book was called, “slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.”
On a certain level, this isn’t completely new. Steve Jobs has long been the master of the presentation. In fact, one could argue that Apple’s success is largely the result of his showmanship. These performances are so elegant and highly choreographed, that they take weeks to rehearse.
In fact, as you may recall, that was one of the reasons Apple supposedly did not want to present at MacWorld any more. Because the trade show occurs in early January, that meant that Jobs had to spent the bulk of the holidays practicing his presentation.
But now, everyone is expected to be Jobs when they stand up in front a crowd to give a presentation.
Boutelle recalled just how awkward and un-practiced Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared two years ago when he spoke at a developers’ conference to unveil the Facebook platform. And recently, when I attended a recent mobile conference in San Francisco, Motorola Co-CEO Dr. Sanjay K. Jha gave a presentation that came across as stiff and unclear, leading one observer to post and extended critique called, “A Lesson On How Not To Launch A Product.”
Thanks to services like YouTube and SlideShare, we all have a shot a being a celebrity of sorts. Commerce has become art. Work is a stage.
Clearly, I need to raise my game and get back to work on my slides.