The Cult of Powerpoint

I tweeted an innocuous statement this week about how I didn't believe in PowerPoint® and got some interesting comments and discussions about it.  Dan Holden said it would make a good blog post... An I think he was right.

I've always hated this application and snort loudly when it's called a productivity tool because it is anything but.  I'm not alone in this belief.  The Department of Defense has had a very strict limit on presentations because it started eating up server and man-power bandwidth 10 years ago.  And things haven't gotten any better.

Yesterday I was part of the 2025 Virtual Conference, speaking on the future of media.  The day before they asked for my presentation and I said I didn't have one and would not be using it.  Took them a few seconds to process that information.  "Really?  No presentation?"  Our panel closed the first day, went off without a hitch and was quite animated.  I checked in on a couple other sessions earlier and there was one interview with a Cisco guy on HTML5 that had no slides and went smoothly, but all the sessions with slides had technical difficulties, the presenters were dry and monotone... AND YOU COULDN"T READ THE DAMN THINGS!

And that's the basic problem that I and the Department of Defense have with PowerPoint.  It's supposed to be an enhancement of an oral report, but most people -- especially engineers -- are not trained in how to give an effective oral presentation.  They are trained to write technical documents and they make up PPT files the same way -- like a technical paper... which they then READ to the audience like they are illiterate.  They pack each slide with words and tiny pictures, animations that clog up processor bandwidth, and use colors and type fonts that would make an epileptic puke.  It drives me frigging nuts!

A few years ago, a Japanese engineer was about to give a presentation to his corporate leaders and his hard drive crashed.  Knowing he had no time to fix it, he grabbed a handful of acetate sheets and a grease pen.  On each of his sheets... there were 10 in all.  He wrote one word that summarized what he was talking about.  By the end of the presentation, the leadership was so impressed they issued a directive that all presentation should be like this one.  The audience was able to focus on the speaker and the presentation didn't distract him from what he was trying to convey.

James Colgan at Xuropa pointed out in a comment that PowerPoint can be a powerful tool, and I completely agree with him but you have to know how to communicate before you can realize the power.  and knowing how to make animations and do whiz-bang transitions between each slide doesn't qualify as a communication skill.  PowerPoint in the hands of the untrained is as wise as giving an automatic weapon to a monkey, but companies not only continue in the practice of using it improperly but require it's use.  I've even see some companies give me presentations as the basic information about products and companies when all they needed was a one-page word processing document.

I know I'm just whistling in the wind, but I would not shed a tear if the Cult of Powerpoint was taken down.