Is Microsoft’s PowerPoint Presenter Coach taking my job? No.

by Michael Rickwood

I have been a presentations coach for the best part of 15 years. Coach is one of my titles along with consultant, director, trainer and whatever else describes what I do, which is help people in all sectors and walks of life to give fantastic presentations in high stakes scenarios, or train them to be simpler, more natural, better prepared and highly impactful, whether on stage or on a digital platform.

Artificial intelligence is all the rage these days, and last year Microsoft announced a new function in PowerPoint: The Presentation Coach. It’s an AI powered tool that helps you to rehearse and monitor your tone, keeps a word count tally per minute and will tell you off if you use too many filler words and profanity. After you’re finished it presents you with a dashboard telling you how you did, whether you need to improve or if everything was ok. After using it, I got a good score, but apparently I used too many fillers. The problem is: how do I tell a machine I’ve got an old motor tic problem?

Admittedly, like many people in many sectors, my first reaction to the idea of an AI doing the same job as me was dread. Is this the beginning of the end I said to myself? Already PowerPoint is proposing slide design ideas, now it can coach, what’s next? Is it going to deliver the presentation for you?

It’s true that if we take a wide angle lens view, the data doesn’t look good. According to McKinsey, 50% of all jobs could be automated by 2030, or at least 50% of the tasks that we currently perform. No industry will be spared, whether its industrial farming or yoga teaching. I don’t deny it, it remains a scary prospect for us all.

But what is clear to me, like in all sectors, is that we actually have a choice. Ignore it at your peril or embrace it and start using it to improve your offering.

Think about life before predictive text? Or smart cameras on iPhones, or calendar apps? Hell, even dishwashers are smart nowadays. Augmented life is good.

My job is to listen to client presentations, brainstorm with them, look for contextual meaning in their messaging, find a visual story in my mind’s eye in order to help them produce slides, rehearse look for signs of poor concentration, anxiety and poor clarity. It’s true having a word count and feedback on whether they said the word ‘um’ 17 times is useful but frankly I’m ready to delegate this activity to a bot, hands down.

Jobs are evolving beyond our control and the boring stuff, the dangerous stuff and yes, all the stuff that a machine can do better and cheaper will slowly be removed from our job descriptions over time. So fight it, or work with it. We all have a choice. If I integrate this in to my rehearsals it will make for a better offering for my clients and provide me with an assistant that frankly doesn’t fulfill a job description for a real person. It also allows me to concentrate on stuff I’m better at.

There is one drawback, using this by itself might slow you down but it is not going to make you a better presenter. There is a risk that AI standardisation will alienate beautifully imperfect speakers. As with any AI, the tool can’t set the new standard and take away the humanity. And ultimately, it cannot give meaning and purpose to our words.

So, PPT Presenter Coach is here to stay. Using it will be useful, especially for me. I might have to toggle that anti-profanity option though, as swearing is apparently a sign of intelligence.

Presenter in front of graphs