The Weakness of PowerPoint

In order to extract maximum impact from today’s literary essay, you need to pretend that you’re sitting in a crowded room, staring at a PowerPoint presentation on the giant screen in front of you.

  • You’re staring at a PowerPoint presentation on the giant screen in front of you.

Gracious.

Because PowerPoint presentations are so irritating, you might want to soothe yourself by viewing an image of calmness and tranquility. Catching the Breeze by Steve Henderson

Did I just repeat myself, word for word?

  • I do believe that I just repeated myself, word for word,

lending impact to our simulated PowerPoint presentation

  • Our simulated PowerPoint presentation

Which mimics the real thing – an interactive slide show that may or may not include poorly drawn spot art but is packed to the gills with bulleted sentences on the big screen repeating, word for word, what you’re reading in the handout you were given as you walked in the door.

  • You are given a handout as you walk in the door.

I know. It makes me want to scream, too.

I just returned from one of those not officially mandatory but obviously obligatory parental information education meetings, and sure enough, as we walked in the door, I was handed a parental information packet (the progeny prospective college student was given a coupon for pizza – is this fair?) and ushered to a seat in front of a large white screen.

The screen announced “WELCOME!  Parents and Students.”

The front cover of the information packet said, “A Warm Welcome to Prospective Students and Their Parents.”

So warm, so welcoming, so inviting -- my mind wanders about on a lazily wending county road while my tushie is stuck to a carpeted chair. County Road by Steve Henderson

Sigh.

The packet was 20 pages long.

The PowerPoint presentation, which repeated, in bulleted form, everything in those 20 pages, was three times that many minutes.

Years ago, there were slide shows, in which speakers flashed a picture on the wall and talked about it. The good speakers said a salient sentence or two and moved on; the poor ones talked . . . and talked . . . and talked about five smiling strangers staring at the camera before clicking to the next slide, a photo of the entry sign to a scenic monument, besides which stood five different smiling strangers.

But at least there were the pictures to look at.

Now, with PowerPoint, anyone and everyone slaps on a background image – like an entry sign to a scenic monument, say – and superimposes the same sentence that they speak, which mirrors the sentence in everyone’s handout, bulletin, prospectus, or report.

It’s shudderingly dreadful when the title of the presentation is something like

  • Eight Crucial Strategies for Increasing Sales
  • Mistakes College Freshmen Make – 13 Simple Ones and 6 Complicated Ones
  • The 15 Attributes of Jesus

Given that the average sixth grader is routinely assigned the project of creating a PowerPoint presentation, is it possible that we assign, also, the requirement that the presentation be vaguely interesting? Better yet, we could add a caveat that the speaker NOT read from the screen like a politician giving a heartfelt speech off of the teleprompter.

Ideally, we could hand people the packet of information that we want them to read, written, I fervently hope, in a reasonably organized and engaging manner, and just let them, well, read it.

What an unusual, novel idea.

  • This idea is novel and unusual

If you want novel and unusual, then check out Zion National Park in Utah -- in real life, if you can, not a PowerPoint presentation. Blue Ribbon by Steve Henderson

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
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11 Responses to The Weakness of PowerPoint

  1. oldswimmer says:

    There used to be things that were less redundant, Carolyn, but the trend is past, I think, finally. Do you remember the flickering collage effect? I mean a zillion still shots flitting before your eyes at warp speed, requiring your brain to try to sprint, and expecting your brain to have gotten some sort of information after you underwent the visual presentation? The most cruel (to someone with ADHD) version of this was a four-screen version where four different screens showed such spin at the same time. And the one I’m thinking of was about missionaries using airplanes to do work in the jungle. I do remember the subject, but with such a sense of frustration…my brain is still trying to settle on something to think about!

    • I’m hoping that presentation so this sort have lost their novelty, like the websites with music and moving pictures, but I’m guessing that there are some diehards out there subjecting captive audiences to this treatment.

  2. cabinart says:

    Wow, you certainly made your point! That was hilariously cynical, and exactly expresses the way I feel about those presentations. The terrifically wise writer/speaker/blogger Michael Hyatt has a blog post called “You Suck at PowerPoint”, so you are clearly in good company.

    Since most people feel the way we do, who are those doofuses that continue to produce such repetitive drivel??

  3. cabinart says:

    And, here is the link to the aforementioned blog post: http://michaelhyatt.com/slides/you-suck-at-powerpoint

  4. Cynical? Oh dear. Biting, acerbic, irrationally irritated, but cynical?
    Thank you for saying that I am in good company with Michael, although I would prefer to phrase it that he is in good company with me, or, to be even more egalitarian, we are in good company together, although that’s starting to sound a bit strange . . .

    • cabinart says:

      Heh, heh, Carolyn, I am an IDIOT of the first degree to use a word with you that I am slightly unsure of without first checking the dictionary! You are a very skilled user of words.

      Cynical means “distrustful of one’s sincerity” – did the presenters sincerely believe you all were stupid and illiterate? Probably. So “cynical” was the wrong word for your attitude. Once again, you are right.

  5. Dave says:

    Seth Godin did a wonderful article about how to use Powerpoint the right way, and I read it years ago. Now I almost literally shudder when in a room of 100+ people with masters degrees and PhDs and the presenter reads his slide…
    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2007/01/really_bad_powe.html

    • Trapped! In the middle of the row, unable to escape, unable to stop reading, over and over, the words in front of you on the screen.

      I, too, have been there, and much as I avoid going back, I’m sure it will happen again in the future.

  6. oldswimmer says:

    It will CERTAINLY happen in the future! Thing is: heady “audio-visual tech” people have taken the original power point lessons, and since they have been using power point for SUCH a long time, they figure they know better than anyone how it’s supposed to work. Experts, y’know.,. So often Experts don’t check back to see if the original still is the most effective plan. Like Doctors and Teachers, all Experts should stay on top of their game by ongoing study of new trends and current feedback.

    • So very true. It’s easy to forget that learning is a lifelong process, and the best way of learning is to be out in the middle of it, ready to sink or swim depending upon whether or not you get it right. And, as you say, that’s not necessarily the way the Experts do things.

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