“It’s really good,” the voice at the other end of the phone said. “Relevant. Timely. Exactly the sort of thing we need to hear. And I understand you’ve done it for us before?”
Yes, I replied. I’d actually delivered the presentation in 2010, as part of a corporate strategy day for a key client of mine. It’d been well-received at the time, and I ended up handing off USB flash-drive copies to a few people afterwards. I’d be happy to revisit it for content updates, I told my client partner; after all, it was now nearly three years old, and could probably stand a refresh.
There was an awkward silence, and then the voice spoke again. “Yeah. Um, about that. It’s a junior executive meeting – ” There was special emphasis placed on the word junior. “- and, uh, I wondered if you could find a, um, voice for this that would speak to them. An audience of twentysomethings.”
I can take a hint as well as the next guy, so I muted the call and furiously Googled +presentation +Millennial +format. Scanning the results, I had two immediate takeaways.
1. I’m old.
2. What the hell are they teaching my children in school?
“No problem,” I said. “Send me an Outlook meeting invite, and I’ll be there, ready to go.”
And I was off. I’m 43, so I’ve been in business long enough to remember prepping for presentations with this, and this, and this. Throughout all of these formats, fundamentals remained: a constant background. A series of bullet points. Sparingly-applied graphics, used to make a point or illustrate a concept.
That made my progress through my Google findings that much more painful. The more I read, the older and more out of step I felt. That’s in part because I’ve spent a good amount of time in a feedback loop of other middle-aged business geezers, all of us serving up the same old PowerPoint content to each other in progress meetings and project discussions. See the same suit fashions and tie widths among your peers long enough, and you’ll convince yourself that everyone’s wearing them.
An hour in, though, my creative juices kicked in, and I began to actively enjoy the process of taking my old presentation apart and rebuilding it into a new one for this audience. I’d almost completely lost myself in the work, when I realized that I had a visitor in my office.
“What are you doing, Dad?”
I explained to E that I was reworking a presentation for a new audience, and showed her the old one, and then the new one. As I went back and forth, slide by slide, her frown deepened.
“I thought you were supposed to use bullet points. And the background had to stay the same. The font size, too.”
“And you can. But some people are pushing the bounds a bit more. Adding more creativity to the mix.”
“I like it,” E opined. “Can I do mine like that?”
Just then, I realized I’m having one of those Inception-esque moments in parenting and education, Cobb awakening in the surf to go and retrieve my ancient, wizened children from modern educational Limbo. I’m watching two ten-year-olds get taught how to build old business-geezer presentations as quickly as I’m tearing mine down and repurposing them for Millennial audiences. We’re inside-out on these topics, preparing them for a world that doesn’t exist anymore based on what we knew to be true a decade or more ago. It’s just as vertigo-inducing when I hear about teachers insisting that students hand-write essays and then re-write them by hand if they make mistakes, while we’re working a three-writer swapwrite on Google Docs. Or when the kids head off to Young Ameritowne and practice waiting in line at a bank teller to deposit their paychecks – while I’m depositing a client payment by scanning the check on the iPad.
The pace of cultural and technological change isn’t slowing down. If anything, it’s accelerating. If we prepared kids for the world outside our doors today, we’d miss badly – and we’re not. Outside, it’s 2013. School is preparing them for life in 1993. It’s one thing for me to have to play catchup, as I did on this project; I’m of the age when it starts to become challenging to understand why Skrillex and Jersey Shore and Uggs are popular. But it’s quite another to waste kids’ time getting them ready to be wrinkled, out-of-step forty-year-olds the minute they exit the school system.