Poetry: a medium to relieve the tedium – seriously

PowerPoint and poetry have a few points of difference. The most striking is that poetry as a form or art and communication predates literacy, whereas PowerPoint tries to replace it.

Poetry is many things to many people. I have often found when using the medium that to announce that I am about to read a poem to an audience otherwise steeling themselves for another barrage of slides goes down like a sack of the proverbial. However, when they realise its not “I’m gonna write a classic, I’m gonna write it in an attic” – which takes a few stanzas – the mood lightens, and the engagement begins.

Of course poetry is generally deemed unsuitable for serious business purposes. It has taken long enough to have storytelling accepted as vital for the conveyance of important messages, but poetry is still generally seen as a step too far.

Having been plasticising performance poetry within the workplace industry for a year and a half, I thought it time to speak in its defence – in normal flat text of course, in case anyone were immediately alienated by the prospect of rhyme. Its okay, you can carry on reading.

So here are ten reasons why poetry should be treated seriously as a method of business communication:

  1. As a form of storytelling it has a long, deep and incredibly enduring tradition – we still admire and respect our leading poets now, and hail those from history who have left us enduring, haunting or hilarious images. Exactly how many PowerPoint decks have left that mark on you.
  2. It inherently allows a much needed license to say things one could never say in a standard 2D presentation – this is important in a world where as speech becomes freer, the traps are more prevalent. The veil of art is available.
  3. It has the potential to create an emotional connection with the audience, forming an irrational yet additional point of access to the listener.
  4. It creates a point of difference. You are likely to remember the presenter who used poetry rather than bullet points. Even if it is to ensure they are not invited back again.
  5. You know there are limited participants. Like PowerPoint presentations, poetry still has to be good, and so there is little competition. Bad poetry fails very badly indeed – if you take a risk, you may fall much further. However in the realm of business-as-we-know-it, you can trundle out slide-delivered dirge and just about get away with it. Mediocrity is tolerated. Even at conferences where people are paying good money to check their e-mails while it’s going on.
  6. It is refreshingly incongruent with a suited and booted professional. Poets don’t wear suits do they…?
  7. The almost-now-compulsory slide deck is incidental. The fact that you cannot – physiologically – read and listen at the same time is lost on 99% of business presenters anyway (sorry, that was a stat). Background images sometimes help, and certainly the work in the pecha kucha style I have adopted on occasions assists with the required timing, but they are not necessarily needed. And thank heavens for that.
  8. Pie charts are not required. Irrespective of whether slides are used, the audience will not be required to squint at unsuitably sized statistical data propping up a weak argument lost on the listener thirty minutes previous and so consequently no longer of any importance.
  9. No-one begrudges you trying, because trying something different is usually a blessed relief from that which we come to expect – and dread.
  10. You can make up words. And that is just superlicious.

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