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The Problem With PowerPoint

August 19, 2009

Interesting article at the BBC if you are a user of Powerpoint. Personally, I think Powerpoint can be a valuable tool if used properly for the environment it is used in. For instance the professor, the lecturer, the CEO, or the pastor would not use it in the same way. However, I rarely see it used properly, and more often than not see it used improperly which is almost the same as uselessly.

I have had to sit through a number of painful, painful student and church presentations. Nothing screams amateur hour to me more that a bunch of information on the screen that all enters via different animations. I mean really? Powerpoint has been around for 25 years. We know what it can do. You’re pathetic presentation, poorly conceived, and even more poorly enacted are not saved by a line of text coming in from the side. We are not distracted from your lack of preparation or speaking skills. Stop it and suck straight up without the cheesy slideshow.

During my undergrad I always enjoyed when the professor would give us copies of the Powerpoints with all the information we would have to regurgitate on the midterms and finals. This meant I did not have to waste time in class trying to frantically type out bullet point lists, and I could type notes at the bottom of the presentation of his extra comments, thereby, engaging more fully with the lecture aspect of class time; however, I also realize this leaves me in the small minority, and more students use having the notes as an excuse not to prepare by reading, or use the lecture as a time to access their Facebook instead of listening to the lecture. I know, I always sit in the back row and I can see what is on the other student’s screens. I’m not sure there’s really a consensus on how to use this in the classroom properly.

Pastors if you know how to use the medium (and that’s a big if): less is more. Now say it a hundred times. Less is more.

The problem with PowerPoint

If you have worked in an office in the Western world in the past 25 years, you will probably have sat through a PowerPoint presentation. But there’s a problem. They’re often boring, writes presentation expert Max Atkinson.

In the past 25 years, I’ve asked hundreds of people how many PowerPoint presentations they’ve seen that came across as really inspiring and enthusiastic.

Most struggle to come up with a single example, and the most optimistic answer I’ve heard was “two”…

You think bullet points make information more digestible? Think again. A dozen slides with five bullet points on each assumes that people are mentally capable of taking in a list of 60 points. If it’s a 30-minute presentation, that’s a rate of two-per-minute.

This highlights the biggest problem with slide-based presentations, which is that speakers mistakenly think that they can get far more information across than is actually possible in a presentation. At the heart of this is a widespread failure to appreciate that speaking and listening are fundamentally different from writing and reading.

Read the entire article…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2009 12:16 pm

    My employer holds annual training for all field inspection personnel, sort of a continuing training thing to make sure we’re still all on the same page. Several years ago, while I was preparing for my first training presentation, I came across this article by Seth Godin, the marketing guru called “Really Bad PowerPoint.” He said pretty much the same things, with four suggestions for a really good presentation template; chief among them was make detailed notes, but don’t hand them out until after your presentation. I tried several times since to implement his suggestions, and was shot down each time because my slides didn’t “contain enough information to ensure proper information transfer,” or, in other words, I didn’t follow the company’s template.

    PowerPoint is a potentially powerful communicating tool, but is primarily visual in nature (it was designed to allow engineers to communicate with marketing people, who tend to be very visually and image-oriented). At our training, we are typically–thanks to the company template (which is graven in stone. Seriously, I work with people who actually think the internet is a fad. I am not kidding)–reduced to asking questions and rewarding correct answers with a piece of candy or some company swag.

    In a room of 100 men and women, the average age of which is north of 50, we have to use Kindergarten tricks to keep their attention. Freaking sad.

    So anyways, I’m looking forward to this weekend. Annual training in Atlanta. 16 hours over two days.

  2. Jake permalink
    August 21, 2009 8:46 am

    Brian, face it. The internet is nothing BUT a fad. The fact that Scott keeps a blog is pretty much proof of that. I’m predicting the hipsters get their way and we revert to the new phase of Tin Can Phones. You heard it here first.

    • August 21, 2009 7:08 pm

      Lol, dude. Literally, lol.

      Having finished the first day, I haven’t seen and candy flying yet, but it was an utter snooze-fest. No new information, and by the time each break came around, almost everyone was standing in the back of the room (where, oddly enough, we couldn’t hear the speakers cuz the boss didn’t secure a sound system this time).

      But I will bring up that ‘tin can’ suggestion tomorrow to my hipster management. I’ll let you know how it pans out.

      Second thought, no… I’m afraid they’d run with it…

  3. Jake permalink
    August 22, 2009 9:39 am

    What the heck does your company template look like?

    “There must be at least 17 different font changes”
    “You must utilize every single slide change effect”
    “At least one garishly placed JPEG to reinforce a message that’s about as subtle as Gene Simmons at a Southern Baptist church camp. Ex: A picture of a dart board with the slogan ‘Lets hit the target!'”
    “And remember: Turn up the suck, turn down the good.”

    My sympathies for you this weekend Brian.

    • August 24, 2009 10:19 am

      Dude! You were there?

    • August 24, 2009 10:24 am

      All those, plus “Include detailed technical specification on each slide, preferably in 8 pt type, and read the slides verbatim to the audience while facing away from them.” That one is key.

  4. September 18, 2009 1:11 am

    For a really different take on presentations have a look at

    It gets away from slide based presentations to more of a mind map style.

    I’m yet to use it myself, but some of the sample presentations look pretty cool.



  1. clayboy » Congratulations to Scott

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