Once upon a time there lived a vain Emperor whose only worry in life was to impress his subjects with the extraordinary quality of his business presentations. He developed new slide shows almost every day and loved to show them off to his people.
Word of the Emperor’s tremendous presentations spread over his kingdom and beyond. Two scoundrels, named Bill and Bob, who had heard of the Emperor’s vanity, decided to take advantage of it. They introduced themselves at the gates of the palace with a scheme in mind.
“We are two very good software designers and after many years of research we have invented an extraordinary method for the creation of visual aids that is so advanced and automated in its design that it almost completely eliminates the need for any serious creative effort on your part, thus allowing you to develop more presentations more quickly than ever before. As a matter of fact, we have streamlined this system to such an extent that most of your slides will look just like text to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate their quality.”
The chief of the guards heard the scoundrels’ strange story and sent for the court chamberlain. The chamberlain notified the prime minister, who ran to the Emperor and disclosed the incredible news. The Emperor’s curiosity got the better of him and he decided to see the two scoundrels.
“Besides being almost entirely text, your Highness, these slides will have a uniformity of style and design that will make almost every slide look exactly the same, reinforcing your imperial branding. And there are other benefits too. Rather than having to rehearse your presentation, you will be able to read your notes right off the screen. And no more wasted hours developing handouts – simply print out your slides and all the words will be there.” The emperor gave the two men a bag of gold coins in exchange for a multi-site license to use the remarkable new software in all of the Emperor’s many residences and offices.
The Emperor set to work on his first presentation. Amazingly, just as Bill and Bob had promised, he was able to put together his slides in a matter of minutes. He called the Prime Minister in for a preview. “That’s strange, ” thought the PM. “All I can see is slide after slide of bullet points, presented in a mind-numbingly uniform imperial branding. Where are all the photos, the diagrams, the charts and the video clips that made the Emperor’s presentations so famous?”
But before querying this with the Emperor, he thought again: “If all I see is text, then that means I’m stupid! Or, worse, incompetent!” If the prime minister admitted that he could only see text, he would be discharged from his office.”
What a marvellous slide show, Emperor,” he lied. “So minimalist, so … so consistent.” Encouraged by this positive response, the Emperor set about using his new software to develop presentations at such a rate that soon almost all the government’s time was spent in attending them. No-one could criticise the monotonous nature of the Emperor’s slide shows without being accused of stupidity and risking their job. Exacerbating the situation, The Emperor ordered all his officials to develop presentations of their own to provide him with daily updates on matters of state.
One day, a schoolchild on a job placement scheme was invited to sit in on one of the Emperor’s presentations. Bored silly by the slides and aware that most of the audience was losing consciousness, he couldn’t help but remark to those around him: “These slides are just text. They’re not visual aids at all. In fact, this presentation’s a load of xxxx.”
“Fool!” his supervisor snapped. “Don’t talk nonsense!” He grabbed the child and took him away. But the boy’s remark, which had been heard by practically everyone except, luckily, the Emperor, who was too busy reading his script from the screen, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried: “He’s right, you know, it is just text. There are no real visuals and this presentation’s just a load of xxxx.”
And you know what? They were right.
Words: Clive Shepherd, 2003
Images: David Kori