Thursday, April 10, 2008

Throw off the crutches of ppt!

The most important line in a recent post: Jessica got a round of applause for not using any PowerPoint slides.

The time has come for the world, with cries of "Hallelujah!", to throw away the crutches of PowerPoint.

Sure, a good ppt presentation can be special, but how often do you see a good one, or one that even contributes to the reservoir of human knowledge? Instead, what usually happens?

1 -- The machine doesn't work, and the audience is left sitting while the speaker pushes buttons and pulls cables and finally calls in the house AV person, who pushes buttons and pulls cables. What better way to show lack of respect to your audience and lose their engagement by keeping them waiting for your talk?

2 -- The slides are filled with text. The speaker tries to put up too much information, instead of using a few words on the slide to create emphasis.

3 -- The slides are filled with Excel spreadsheets with tiny cells. How often have you heard this: "I know you can't read this from your seat"? Well, why put it up on a screen if people can't read it?

4 -- The speaker turns away from the audience to look at the screen whenever a new slide comes up (yes, even when there is a computer on the podium!), losing eye contact with the audience.

5 -- Oops, did I say "eye contact?" That was already lost when the lights were dimmed for the presentation.

6 -- There are too many slides. A new one arrives on the screen every 15 seconds, so if you are trying to take notes (in the dark!), you never finish one before the next appears. (Then, halfway through, the speaker says, don't worry about taking notes. I'll hand out a copy after the presentation.)

7 -- The speaker reads the slides. Need I say more?


Doug Cornelius said...

Paul -

I have always found the problem to be the presenter, not the tool.

My favorite view on this is a piece on Presentation Zen comparing presentations by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs:

Too many people write what they want to say in PowerPoint, instead of showing what they mean.

Anonymous said...

There is an excellent book called The Seven Slide solution. Speaks right to your point. If you need more than seven - and seven powerful summarizes or teasers, then it is overkill....


e-Patient Dave said...

Couldn't agree more with Doug. PPT as a word container is horrid, just as you say. Otoh, if it's used to show something that words can't convey, it becomes a true visual aid - not a crutch.

btw, Hans Rosling's brilliant 2006 TED talk doesn't use PowerPoint (he actually pokes great fun at it, near the end) but is a superb example of a visual aid that conveys information in a way that no words (and no static graph) ever could. Your own post with the CDC obesity data gives a tiny glimpse of what Rosling's data animation software does.

Anonymous said...

I concur with visiting Presentation Zen ( as Doug suggested. See also, Edward Tufte's The Cognitive Style of PPT (could be sub-titled "or lack thereof) and Andy Goodman's "Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes."

Unknown said...

yes. yes. yes.

powerpoint in itself is not a terrible thing, but the AutoContentWizard and the default bullet format leads to terrible presentations when the content is weak or the presenter doesn't know how to use effectively use powerpoint. (the recommendation of tufte is seconded.)

the solution, for those who don't have time to learn powerpoint, is of course to TALK during their talk...not just to read word-for-word off of ugly slides.

...and, of course, handouts should be content-rich, not just printouts of the same ugly slides.

Aaron Hefel
MHA Candidate '09
UI College of Public Health

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I've yet to sit through a job-related health care presentation where I didn't look at the clock multiple times hoping the presenter would release me from the misery.

Being in school would make one think that we could cover how to present well; it's obviously not going to happen. When I beg group members to limit text on slides I just get blank stares...and for the purpose of ending a group meeting, I give in.

What's worse, in a very recent presentation, our overall score given by a professor was reduced because we used too many pictures and not enough text...not that I care, but I fear for the student whose creativity is punished and reinforces the boring behavior.

While bad PowerPoint is here to stay, thank you to those who are at least trying to reform!

jessica lipnack said...

And now a word from the woman who got the applause as per above. I've been using PPT since the beginning of time, have been Tufted, never read from the slides, regard good writing in the bullets (why do we have weapons for our thoughts) as critical...and still...going slideless was, from the speaker's point of view, wonderful. Drew, I'd like a word with your professor.

Sara said...

Thank you to the commenters for the links: I'm just about to write a brief case presentation ppt for nursing school and I'm feeling all fired up to make it more creative and engaging than I otherwise would have.