Next slide, please …

The arguments against using PowerPoint keep mounting. Originally developed for the Mac by Forethought under the name “Presenter” as an “object oriented bit-mapped application software” – which means a program to show some pictures – it was bought by Micro$oft and turned into the mind-numbing torture tool you have been exposed to far too many times. It goes along my reasoning in terms of cargo-cult that by now you are expected to give a talk in PowerPoint, full stop, no discussion. Considerations if there might be better ways of communicating are met with raised eyebrows – making you feel somewhat between ludicrous or heretic. With people crediting form rather than function, meaning or content it takes some guts to deviate from the norm. You probably have similar experiences: Engaging the audience using (white/black) boards, visual aids, flipchart, models, toys, random items lying around, body language, rhetoric or humor could have serious negative side-effects. What if we do not dim the lights and get through endless bullet-points in a monotonous voice and actually do get something important across? Well, it could keep people from their 30+ minutes of uninterrupted dozingPowerNapping and well-deserved in-office meditation! Just imagine the damage done to the mental well-being of your colleagues…

So what happens if you start taking Edward Tufte or “Presentation Zen” seriously and put an effort into making good use of everybody elses’ time? For a start, when your superior gets a glimpse of it prior to your presentation, he will ask you why the company logo is not on every slide, why the background isn’t blue (or the colour of his favourite tie) and why the few (3 dozen) charts from the last quarterly revenue / research / departmental (whatever) report aren’t included. After all, your organisation probably spent an insane amount of money on the CI (CorporateIdentity) and the experts’ results were blessed by the CEO plus all the other guys with important 3-letter codes in their job-title. This social pressure sooner or later had to lead to some kind of counter-reaction (“Actioni contrarium semper et aequalem esse reactionem” – Isaac Newton, Principia Mathematica) – and now even in the form of a “political” party: the Anti-Power-Point Party.

… students and pupils are punished with a lower mark, if they give a presentation without PowerPoint*. Superiors are obliging their co-workers to use PowerPoint*. The fact is that the average PowerPoint* presentation creates boredom. The world is using PowerPoint* without knowing that the alternative flip-chart has a triple effect in 95% of the cases.

Why is a flipchart or white/blackboard superior to the standard slide-show? It simply is about the storyline, which is gently developing in front of your very eyes. This is what we humans are generally good at: remembering stories, especially when they make sense. The average manager however still seems to conclude that if you dare to not blow your audiences’ mind at a rate over 100 sph (slides per hour, empirically 60 sph is the absolute limit of conscious perception, equalling approx. 6 bpm (bulletpoints per minute)) it seems you don’t have anything to say …
But seriously: that’s why these animations on “RSA animate” are so impressive, and I should also mention prezi.com as a possible story-centered alternative to PowerPoint here. Use it at your own risk – you’ve been warned! This is not about saying that software X is better than Y, it’s about keeping an open mind of what works best for your purpose. In the end, all the critcism (and PowerPoint bashing) is well-founded, but we also need to highlight the alternatives and possible ways forward – without repeating the fallacy to value to some (other) form over meaning.

If you haven’t seen “Death by PowerPoint” by Don McMillan yet – check out this 2010 version:

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  1. #1 by cistronic on 2011/07/19 - 12:58

    Alsthough similar to PowerPoint, here is a browser-based alternative:
    The “Shower Presentation Template” by Vadim Makeev, Opera Software
    http://pepelsbey.github.com/shower/

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