PowerPoint Party in the USA

Instead of a groan, the presentation slides — the stuff of lecture halls and boardroom meetings — draw earnest applause and cheers from the bar-goers.
By Jane Z. Li

It’s Tuesday night, and Noir is hopping. Patrons are crowded around a bar laden with appetizers, laughing off the stress of the day. Amid the drinking and snacking, the words “How Marching Band Can Change Your Life” suddenly flash onto a screen mounted on the wall, revealing the unmistakable title slide of a PowerPoint presentation.

Instead of a groan, the presentation slides — the stuff of lecture halls and boardroom meetings — draw earnest applause and cheers from the bar-goers.

You’re skeptical. That’s understandable. If you’re going to a bar on a Tuesday night, being reminded of work or school seems like it’d be incredibly undesirable. But this is no typical night at Noir: it’s PowerPoint night.

Debuting on Oct. 4, the PowerPoint Party drew a small crowd to Noir, a cocktail lounge located on the lower level of the Charles Hotel.
“Have you been holding back from your loved ones your obsession with the Olympic sport of curling?” the online registration form reads, “Bursting at the seams to talk about why Carly Rae Jepsen deserves the Nobel Peace Prize? Feel passionately about ‘The Dress’ and ‘Yanny versus Laurel?’ Or perhaps you just want to practice your public speaking!” By signing up, you commit to a three-minute PowerPoint presentation on any topic, pitting yourself against other presenters in a bid to win gift certificates to eateries in the hotel.

Molly S. Collins, the brand marketing manager of the Charles Hotel, said she was inspired to organize the event after attending a coworker’s dinner party where the guests engaged in similar software antics. “They decided they just didn’t want to have a party and drink. They wanted to have there be an interactive element,” she says.

Collins kicked off the night with her presentation titled, “How Marching Band Can Change Your Life.” She reflected on the traits she cultivated through marching band: a penchant for punctuality and the ability to “fall asleep anywhere.”

Then came Sadie Garside, the woman who hosted the party that inspired Collins to bring the PowerPoint Party to Noir. Fittingly, Garside’s presentation was called “Insider’s Look: How to Throw an Iconic Dinner Party.” Instead of giving a bullet point-laden informative session, she boiled down her art to “organization and invitation.” Besides her planning skills, Garside has also perfected the technique of weeding out true friends through her guest list. The ones that arrive in a blizzard are the real friends, she says, ““Everyone else won’t be invited next year.”

The fan-favorites of the night followed, beginning with Willie M. Hodel’s ironic “Success and Success.” Hodel sped through a slideshow bursting with buzzwords such as “big data,” “machine learning,” and “cutting edge,” he detailed how to achieve life’s peak goals — “business, money, profits” — with business-like efficiency.

“There’s a lot of... buzzwords and jargon,” Hodel says. “I work as a consultant, so I’ve kind of seen that side of the business… I thought it’d be very funny to kind of satire that.”

Next in line, Brian L. Dorfman delivered an impassioned presentation titled “Claudius: The Real Hero of Hamlet.” Utilizing select passages to detail King Hamlet’s corruption, Dorfman spun a re-evaluation of the traditional interpretation of Hamlet’s antagonist. After three minutes, King Hamlet became a good-for-nothing king who neglected his people, while Claudius embodied the honor and sympathy suitable for a ruler.

“I’ve had this topic idea for years,” Dorfman says. “But it’s only been a rant to my friends up until now. Finally, I can present it to strangers.”

Many of the audience members were friends of presenters, but not all. Karen L. Werner and Nicholas A. Gross learned about the event through Speak Up Cambridge, a local branch of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit focused on improving public speaking and leadership skills. The novelty, not nepotism, is what brought them through the door.

“PowerPoint is ubiquitous in my work, and always used in a certain way,” Werner says. “I think it has potential to be a creative medium too, but it’s also sort of too cut loose from corporate and too kind of make fun of that a little bit.”

Gross’s professional interests drew him in. “I work with a group that uses improv training to do science communication, so this is related to that in the sense of like, you’re taking PowerPoint and you’re mangling it, right?” he says. For Gross, the “mangling” of the PowerPoint here at Noir is akin to his work helping scientists “break out of the models that have been presented before in terms of... science communication.”

Collins has scheduled a PowerPoint Party for each Tuesday evening in October and hopes the series will gain traction.
“Harvard Square is filled with very intellectual, nerdy people who maybe want an outlet,” Collins says. “I thought it would fit our branding of the hotel, but also give people an alternative to trivia or just, something else where they can do something fun.”

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