Sunday, May 2, 2010

Is PowerPoint the enemy?

Think of the last time you were completely bored in a PowerPoint presentation. If you are like me, your pulse lowers, your eyes glaze over, you think about other things and perhaps you do your email on the “crackberry.” Back in January 2009, I did a two part blog series on this topic entitled “The Heart Rate Test (Story-time Part I)” and “Death by Viewgraph…NOT (Story-time Part II).”

Last week a colleague emailed me an article from the New York Times (26 April 2010) entitled “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint“ by Elisabeth Bumiller. It discussed the use of PowerPoint in the military and how it does not properly articulate the message to leadership. While the article does present the topic in a fair manner, I do not agree PowerPoint is the issue. It is the user that over uses the tool to avoid really engaging. The presentations you give are far more than the charts presented. You need to understand your audience and their motivations. You need to appeal to all of the audience’s senses and make them be a part of the session.

Is PowerPoint running a “muck” in your organization? What have you done to correct it?


Unknown said...

I find it interesting that the statement "how it [meaning powerpoint] does not properly articulate the message to leadership" implies that the tool should be conveying a message versus the presenter correctly utilizing tools to assist in articulating a message. In my particular case we have a way of trying to use excel for everything and not taking into consideration there are tools that require much less manipulation to get the data into a user friendly format the conveys a message that can be taken away and shared with others.

Anna said...

We need to get back to the true purpose of PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a powerful, tickler tool in the sense that is represents visual reminders to the speaker leading them to their next speaking point. Hence the name PowerPoint. People over use the tool and instead of the Presenter being the focal point the charts become the center of attention. We have become PP dependent. Our team set a challenge. Here is the true test. Take away the PP slides...can you still deliver an effective presentation? Try it. If you can then you don't really need your PP slides and they become what they were initially intended to be...a convenient tool not a critical need.

David Gaal said...

I have only one thing to say:

It really openned my eyes.

enjoy it!

Unknown said...

PowerPoint is a good tool, but just a tool. As a senior systems engineer and part-time instructor at a major defense contractor, I've learned to present the material to reach the audience and, hopefully, have the desired effects. Most of the time I use PowerPoint. This week I have a serious technical review, so I'm presenting the technical documents directly, without PowerPoint.

Petra Mohr said...

It's funny if you ask me today "when have you benn bored by power point"? It was yesterday.
What I do to avoid people get bored by watching power point presenations - avoid standards, use effects, show pictures and screenshots of what you're working at. I'd really like to use Apple "Keynotes", unfortunately is this software not our company standards....

Robert Fisher said...

Good points John. I was taught in public speaking the basics of delivering presentations. The message is far more than the bullet points on a PowerPoint show yet when presenting to executives they want it in PowerPoint and seem to get confused when the topic veers away from the exact bullet points to deal with issues or situations. Do we just need to kill the use of PowerPoints and get back to basic meetings where we all talked to and with each other, took our own notes on the discussions and sent out a collective meeting wrap up with key notes in PowerPoint as a wrap up after the meeting( with the assigned action items of course)?

David Armstrong said...

I used to work for a company where the mantra for the corporate culture was, "If it's not in Powerpoint, its not real." There was a lot of important information and more importantly, context, that got skipped.

Edward Tufte has done much work on presentations and conveying information effectively. See

His monograph, The Cognitive Style of Powerepoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within is highly recommended reading for effective communication with and without Powerpoint.

Scott Wisler said...

I find myself thinking ever more deeply about being effective with PowerPoint, and communicating in general.

One observation I've made over the years is that a presentation serves multiple purposes, to multiple audiences, over long periods of time. It helps one sharpen their understanding of the material (during creation), it conveys information during a presentation, and it serves as documentation (we're often too pressed for time to write a proper report). It is given in person, over the web, read individually, and, later, read out of context.

I'm concluding that one document can't do all this. What I've been trying to do lately is find highly descriptive pictures that convey the meaning I want to communicate, and use the 'notes' section to write out the spoken text of the slide. That way I can have text that supports the lone reader who picks the document up next year, and not bore the audience with bullet points.

I have to say that many times though, especially in highly technical fields, this is not satisfactory.

John Bishop said...

Thanks for the comments and the resouce Deffke.

Randy Bosch said...

Rather than accept responsibility for their actions, those who struggle usually first blame their tools, and that they were compelled to use them by others!
Human nature has never changed, just technology, so no newer method of coping seems to be forthcoming.

As NN Taleb stated (just today!),
"Technology can degrade every single aspect of a sucker's life while convincing him that it is becoming more 'efficient'"

Unknown said...

Interesting post. Powerpoint has been a great help when presenting something during meetings. You place keywords on your slides so you would not forget to say important things. But since Powerpoint has been used for a long time, people tend to get bored looking at simple presentations. When presenting something, you need to catch the attention of the audience and a powerpoint presentation is usually one of the things that does that. Make your presentation colorful, but not distracting. Place pictures, videos, animations to show what you want to say.

Maria Payroll

Add to Technorati Favorites