“PowerPoint corrupts absolutely”

I can’t believe I missed this critique of PowerPoint in Wired by Edward Tufte, which came out a year ago:

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.

Yet slideware -computer programs for presentations -is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.

Of course, data-driven meetings are nothing new. Years before today’s slideware, presentations at companies such as IBM and in the military used bullet lists shown by overhead projectors. But the format has become ubiquitous under PowerPoint, which was created in 1984 and later acquired by Microsoft. PowerPoint’s pushy style seeks to set up a speaker’s dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse? Voicemail menu systems? Billboards? Television? Stalin?

Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something.

In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds’ worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another. When information is stacked in time, it is difficult to understand context and evaluate relationships. Visual reasoning usually works more effectively when relevant information is shown side by side. Often, the more intense the detail, the greater the clarity and understanding. This is especially so for statistical data, where the fundamental analytical act is to make comparisons.

via Wired 11.09: PowerPoint Is Evil.

He goes on.  Is he right?

I myself use it only when I am giving a presentation in which I need to show and then discuss works of  art.  But I don’t use it for my lecture outlines.  And I don’t like to turn out the lights, thus cutting off my contact with my audience and surely inducing them to fall asleep.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://blog.faith-filled.com Stephenie

    What is the alternative? Besides not using it, that is. I don’t care for Powerpoint presentations and would like to use something else, but I’m not a big tech person, so it seems like a simpler solution. (But I don’t care for it and don’t look forward to designing a Pp presentation.) The only other thing I can think of is using video clips, which may not work for certain presentations.

  • http://blog.faith-filled.com Stephenie

    What is the alternative? Besides not using it, that is. I don’t care for Powerpoint presentations and would like to use something else, but I’m not a big tech person, so it seems like a simpler solution. (But I don’t care for it and don’t look forward to designing a Pp presentation.) The only other thing I can think of is using video clips, which may not work for certain presentations.

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ womanofthehouse

    If PowerPoint serves the presentation instead of the presentation serving PowerPoint, then it can be a useful tool. It’s one tool in the toolbelt. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean we *must* use it.

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ womanofthehouse

    If PowerPoint serves the presentation instead of the presentation serving PowerPoint, then it can be a useful tool. It’s one tool in the toolbelt. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean we *must* use it.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    It’s a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I do agree that sometimes Powerpoint is overused (I’m not particularly fond of the fact that the church I attend uses it), but when used sparingly and carefully it can be an asset for learning and retaining information.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    It’s a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I do agree that sometimes Powerpoint is overused (I’m not particularly fond of the fact that the church I attend uses it), but when used sparingly and carefully it can be an asset for learning and retaining information.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    No, he is not right.
    The audience cannot read a dense document while at once listening to a presentation. The visuals just help focus the audience. When the presentation is over, the presenter can pass out the tome of data or a list of internet links, footnotes etc. A presentation, like a college class is just to get the audience’s feet wet and focus on the ideas. They need to do the follow up reading on their own to decide whether the guy is right and whether they agree with his conclusions.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    No, he is not right.
    The audience cannot read a dense document while at once listening to a presentation. The visuals just help focus the audience. When the presentation is over, the presenter can pass out the tome of data or a list of internet links, footnotes etc. A presentation, like a college class is just to get the audience’s feet wet and focus on the ideas. They need to do the follow up reading on their own to decide whether the guy is right and whether they agree with his conclusions.

  • WebMonk

    PowerPoint is teh debbil! Evil! Evil! Break out the tar, feathers, torches and pitchforks!

    It’s a tool like any other, but it’s one that is really easy for anyone to use without any guidance or knowledge and wind up with a product that is infinitely worse than just a plain text paper handout would be.

    I’ve had to sit through WAY too many of those PP presentations to ever want to use it myself. My personal record for having to watch was a 2.5 hour presentation with just shy of 300 slides.

    The longest I’ve ever made myself for a presentation was 8 slides, including the Intro/Title slide and the Ending/Credits slide. Handed out three pages of information with it. Spent 20 minutes answering questions after about 10 minutes of presentation.

    PP is a soul-rotting monstrosity which is certain to be the cause of Skynet’s hatred of the human race.

  • WebMonk

    PowerPoint is teh debbil! Evil! Evil! Break out the tar, feathers, torches and pitchforks!

    It’s a tool like any other, but it’s one that is really easy for anyone to use without any guidance or knowledge and wind up with a product that is infinitely worse than just a plain text paper handout would be.

    I’ve had to sit through WAY too many of those PP presentations to ever want to use it myself. My personal record for having to watch was a 2.5 hour presentation with just shy of 300 slides.

    The longest I’ve ever made myself for a presentation was 8 slides, including the Intro/Title slide and the Ending/Credits slide. Handed out three pages of information with it. Spent 20 minutes answering questions after about 10 minutes of presentation.

    PP is a soul-rotting monstrosity which is certain to be the cause of Skynet’s hatred of the human race.

  • WebMonk

    Oh, in my current work circles, we have a lot of military or ex-military people doing talks and presentations. The standard name for them are the Powerpoint Rangers, or the E-Berets.

  • WebMonk

    Oh, in my current work circles, we have a lot of military or ex-military people doing talks and presentations. The standard name for them are the Powerpoint Rangers, or the E-Berets.

  • EricM

    Unfortunately, my current position requires me to create and also watch far to many PP presentations. When I create them, I try to put things on the slides to help make my point. The slides are not intended to include all of the information that I am trying to get across – if they did, why would I be there presenting? It is far too easy to make give into the tempation to add stupid clip art to each slide (I am guilty of this more times than I would like to admit to) however adding graphics that reinforce the point you are trying to make can be helpful.

    The worst thing about a PP presentation is for the presentor to read the slides. If all you are doing is reading to me, either get rid of the slides or get rid of the presentor!

  • EricM

    Unfortunately, my current position requires me to create and also watch far to many PP presentations. When I create them, I try to put things on the slides to help make my point. The slides are not intended to include all of the information that I am trying to get across – if they did, why would I be there presenting? It is far too easy to make give into the tempation to add stupid clip art to each slide (I am guilty of this more times than I would like to admit to) however adding graphics that reinforce the point you are trying to make can be helpful.

    The worst thing about a PP presentation is for the presentor to read the slides. If all you are doing is reading to me, either get rid of the slides or get rid of the presentor!

  • Carl Vehse

    In ancient times, it is difficult to fall asleep when desperately trying to copy a professor’s chalkboard lecture notes before it was covered by another chalkboard, or erased when all available chalkboards have been used.

  • Carl Vehse

    In ancient times, it is difficult to fall asleep when desperately trying to copy a professor’s chalkboard lecture notes before it was covered by another chalkboard, or erased when all available chalkboards have been used.

  • http://www.thinkingchristian.net Tom Gilson

    PowerPoint can harm or help. Often it harms. I offer the Gettysburg PowerPoint as a case in “point.”

    The best use of PowerPoint is in visuals and in focusing the audience on the essentials. The worst use is as something for the presenter to show and read–especially if not using complete sentences.

  • http://www.thinkingchristian.net Tom Gilson

    PowerPoint can harm or help. Often it harms. I offer the Gettysburg PowerPoint as a case in “point.”

    The best use of PowerPoint is in visuals and in focusing the audience on the essentials. The worst use is as something for the presenter to show and read–especially if not using complete sentences.

  • SKPeterson

    For aerial photography, satellite imagery and maps Power Point is very convenient for static display. Dynamic displays are great and very useful for showing side-by-side comparisons and statistical analysis, but many venues do not have the capability to display such technology and/or access it via the web.

  • SKPeterson

    For aerial photography, satellite imagery and maps Power Point is very convenient for static display. Dynamic displays are great and very useful for showing side-by-side comparisons and statistical analysis, but many venues do not have the capability to display such technology and/or access it via the web.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    He’s soooooo wrong. For example, take a look at these:
    http://www.articulate.com/blog/and-the-winners-of-the-2010-articulate-guru-awards-are/

    They’re all done with PowerPoint, powered up with its add-in tool Articulate. (I admit, I’m a PowerPoint engineer myself!)

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    He’s soooooo wrong. For example, take a look at these:
    http://www.articulate.com/blog/and-the-winners-of-the-2010-articulate-guru-awards-are/

    They’re all done with PowerPoint, powered up with its add-in tool Articulate. (I admit, I’m a PowerPoint engineer myself!)

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    As a Lutheran pastor, I cannot help but chime in even though the point has been made several times.

    I teach full time and find it a useful tool. I use it for presenting the history timeline in history class, and find it especially helpful in 5th and 6th grade when students are learning to take notes. I can present an outline to them, demonstrating how to summarize what I am saying to them. Not to mention being able to have illustrations and maps immediately available, not to mention video and sound. I’ve had great success with it and have gently encouraged other teachers to use it, warning them that a little goes a long way.

    But then, I also think my success is due to the fact that I don’t use PowerPoint. I use Keynote.

  • Rev. Alexander Ring

    As a Lutheran pastor, I cannot help but chime in even though the point has been made several times.

    I teach full time and find it a useful tool. I use it for presenting the history timeline in history class, and find it especially helpful in 5th and 6th grade when students are learning to take notes. I can present an outline to them, demonstrating how to summarize what I am saying to them. Not to mention being able to have illustrations and maps immediately available, not to mention video and sound. I’ve had great success with it and have gently encouraged other teachers to use it, warning them that a little goes a long way.

    But then, I also think my success is due to the fact that I don’t use PowerPoint. I use Keynote.

  • JonSLC

    I learned three basic teaching methods: lecturing, questioning and discussing. (A fourth was “directed projects.”) Each one has strengths and weaknesses. Lecturing’s strength is its ability to convey much information in a short time. Retention is lower in lecturing, however, than in questioning or discussing.

    PowerPoint is generally a way to visually enhance lecturing. Therefore, its pitfalls are the same as that of lecturing. In my opinion, PowerPoint needs to be part of a bigger teaching strategy, not the teacher’s whole strategy.

  • JonSLC

    I learned three basic teaching methods: lecturing, questioning and discussing. (A fourth was “directed projects.”) Each one has strengths and weaknesses. Lecturing’s strength is its ability to convey much information in a short time. Retention is lower in lecturing, however, than in questioning or discussing.

    PowerPoint is generally a way to visually enhance lecturing. Therefore, its pitfalls are the same as that of lecturing. In my opinion, PowerPoint needs to be part of a bigger teaching strategy, not the teacher’s whole strategy.

  • rah

    My experience with PowerPoint, both as a presenter and an audience member, is that the quality of the presentation is always based more on the speaker’s capabilities and less on the medium. But maybe my comment is just a death grip on the obvious–that PowerPoint is evil because it is an easy-to-use enabler for dull people to prolong the boredom of their presentations.

    Like others, I get seriously irritated when anyone merely reads the slides. Another pet peeve was when Excel graphs are imported into PowerPoint without any attention given to the font size of the axis labels. I dislike having to squint through many slides of graphs that might have been more clearly displayed on old fashioned transparencies.

    But I digress. The reason I wanted to comment is a concern about the (mis)use of technology in the classroom, particularly for kids of middle school age and under.

    My aunt is a regional consultant for elementary schools, and I have often heard her rave about how children are learning so much more now than when she was a child. She cites the children’s use of PowerPoint and other technology as an example of this. But I question what is really gained by having second graders prepare their book reports in PowerPoint format as opposed to writing an essay. It seems to me that this approach emphasizes style over substance and also takes away precious time that could be better used.

    What is the point of teaching second graders how to use PowerPoint anyway, as opposed to old school outlines which were more beneficial in organizing one’s thoughts? By the time these kids are in college or working, the technology is likely to have evolved. Our children, who generally seem to master the use of other technology so easily, will likely have no problem getting up to speed on PowerPoint (or its future equivalent) if we waited to introduce it to them in their high school years.

    My theory on why my aunt (the elementary education consultant) thinks that technology in the classroom is so wonderful is admittedly ageist. My aunt is in her sixties and has worked in education for over thirty years. Before the last five years or so, she did not have much exposure to computers or other technological tools. So I think that she is considerably more impressed by the children’s quick grasp of technology than those in my generation are. It leaves me wondering if those of my aunt’s generation, who have reached influential positions in their education careers, have for similar reasons reached the mindset that more technology automatically equals better learning.

  • rah

    My experience with PowerPoint, both as a presenter and an audience member, is that the quality of the presentation is always based more on the speaker’s capabilities and less on the medium. But maybe my comment is just a death grip on the obvious–that PowerPoint is evil because it is an easy-to-use enabler for dull people to prolong the boredom of their presentations.

    Like others, I get seriously irritated when anyone merely reads the slides. Another pet peeve was when Excel graphs are imported into PowerPoint without any attention given to the font size of the axis labels. I dislike having to squint through many slides of graphs that might have been more clearly displayed on old fashioned transparencies.

    But I digress. The reason I wanted to comment is a concern about the (mis)use of technology in the classroom, particularly for kids of middle school age and under.

    My aunt is a regional consultant for elementary schools, and I have often heard her rave about how children are learning so much more now than when she was a child. She cites the children’s use of PowerPoint and other technology as an example of this. But I question what is really gained by having second graders prepare their book reports in PowerPoint format as opposed to writing an essay. It seems to me that this approach emphasizes style over substance and also takes away precious time that could be better used.

    What is the point of teaching second graders how to use PowerPoint anyway, as opposed to old school outlines which were more beneficial in organizing one’s thoughts? By the time these kids are in college or working, the technology is likely to have evolved. Our children, who generally seem to master the use of other technology so easily, will likely have no problem getting up to speed on PowerPoint (or its future equivalent) if we waited to introduce it to them in their high school years.

    My theory on why my aunt (the elementary education consultant) thinks that technology in the classroom is so wonderful is admittedly ageist. My aunt is in her sixties and has worked in education for over thirty years. Before the last five years or so, she did not have much exposure to computers or other technological tools. So I think that she is considerably more impressed by the children’s quick grasp of technology than those in my generation are. It leaves me wondering if those of my aunt’s generation, who have reached influential positions in their education careers, have for similar reasons reached the mindset that more technology automatically equals better learning.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Webmonk,

    This morning my husband took some time off work to go to a local ministry to teach unemployed people how to make better and much more concise presentations.

    Guy Kawasaki’s Presentation Zen

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Webmonk,

    This morning my husband took some time off work to go to a local ministry to teach unemployed people how to make better and much more concise presentations.

    Guy Kawasaki’s Presentation Zen

  • DonS

    PowerPoint and other such presentation tools are wonderful inventions which have finally put to rest those infernal overhead transparencies. This author is shooting the messenger, when the actual problem lies with the user. Why is the teacher not requiring conventional reports? Why is the presenter using 300 slides? The slides should be an outline to hang structure on the presenter’s speech, not the entire text. If you have more than 20 or 25 slides for a one hour presentation, you are way out of line.

  • DonS

    PowerPoint and other such presentation tools are wonderful inventions which have finally put to rest those infernal overhead transparencies. This author is shooting the messenger, when the actual problem lies with the user. Why is the teacher not requiring conventional reports? Why is the presenter using 300 slides? The slides should be an outline to hang structure on the presenter’s speech, not the entire text. If you have more than 20 or 25 slides for a one hour presentation, you are way out of line.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I took a class in Information Design at the University of California Irvine, and the professor forbade the use of PowerPoint. His key reason was the lock-in on sequentiality. As Tufte said, this means the entire flow of the discussion is set from the start. So instead the professor had us create presentations that were not set that way. Creating a website to demonstrate was better, as it would allow digging down in any number of directions, which the audience might determine.

    When I teach Bible class, there is usually a lot of interaction, and I don’t find that people need a screen to keep them engaged. There is a degree of sequentiality in the Bible passage under discussion. But we often break out of that by looking up parallel passages. If I were to choose to use a screen at some point, I would want to take the time to develop a website. I would use any option other than PowerPoint. And choosing among many options might itself lead to a better sense of what I was trying to present.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    I took a class in Information Design at the University of California Irvine, and the professor forbade the use of PowerPoint. His key reason was the lock-in on sequentiality. As Tufte said, this means the entire flow of the discussion is set from the start. So instead the professor had us create presentations that were not set that way. Creating a website to demonstrate was better, as it would allow digging down in any number of directions, which the audience might determine.

    When I teach Bible class, there is usually a lot of interaction, and I don’t find that people need a screen to keep them engaged. There is a degree of sequentiality in the Bible passage under discussion. But we often break out of that by looking up parallel passages. If I were to choose to use a screen at some point, I would want to take the time to develop a website. I would use any option other than PowerPoint. And choosing among many options might itself lead to a better sense of what I was trying to present.

  • SAL

    I’m a PowerPoint ranger. I do see the problems with it, but I’m not certain what the alternative is for data-driven meetings/briefings.

    When I brief my supervisor I show him 60-70 slides (including back-ups). When I brief his boss, I show him 30-40 slides.

    When I brief his boss (3 rungs up the chain) I show him 15-25 slides. By the time I get to the General (5 rungs up the chain) my 500 hundred man hours of work are condensed down to 3 slides and I spend about 5-10 minutes explaining each one and answering questions.

    As I go up the chain of command I gradually whittle a presentation down to just charts, graphs, and images with most written content converted to spoken content.

  • SAL

    I’m a PowerPoint ranger. I do see the problems with it, but I’m not certain what the alternative is for data-driven meetings/briefings.

    When I brief my supervisor I show him 60-70 slides (including back-ups). When I brief his boss, I show him 30-40 slides.

    When I brief his boss (3 rungs up the chain) I show him 15-25 slides. By the time I get to the General (5 rungs up the chain) my 500 hundred man hours of work are condensed down to 3 slides and I spend about 5-10 minutes explaining each one and answering questions.

    As I go up the chain of command I gradually whittle a presentation down to just charts, graphs, and images with most written content converted to spoken content.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Exile

    As an artist and student of the history of art, I have used Power Point a lot. I was taught not to put ANY words on it except for the title with my name. The art is up so that we can talk about it, not for bullet points. I find it really bothersome to have the speaker simply read off the bullet points. Not good public speaking in my opinion. And I hate them in church. Ugh. Save it for Sunday School if you have to use one.

  • http://www.hempelstudios.com Sarah in Exile

    As an artist and student of the history of art, I have used Power Point a lot. I was taught not to put ANY words on it except for the title with my name. The art is up so that we can talk about it, not for bullet points. I find it really bothersome to have the speaker simply read off the bullet points. Not good public speaking in my opinion. And I hate them in church. Ugh. Save it for Sunday School if you have to use one.

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    sg @4,

    The audience cannot read a dense document while at once listening to a presentation.

    The point isn’t that you try and have them do both at the same time. The point is that you, as the presenter, take time to set your info & reasoning down using complete sentences and source listings. Not only does this force you to understand your own material more clearly, it also means your audience walks out with something worth referring to and considering, rather than some handwritten notes on fluffy bullet points. (No, the solution is not to give them a copy of your bullet points either.)

    You have to realize, Ed Tufte is all about credibility. Clear coginitive style, density of information, respect for the audience’s intellect, and accessibility of sources all enhance credibility. PowerPoint intrinsically discourages all of these things (when used as a presenter’s main source of structure).

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    sg @4,

    The audience cannot read a dense document while at once listening to a presentation.

    The point isn’t that you try and have them do both at the same time. The point is that you, as the presenter, take time to set your info & reasoning down using complete sentences and source listings. Not only does this force you to understand your own material more clearly, it also means your audience walks out with something worth referring to and considering, rather than some handwritten notes on fluffy bullet points. (No, the solution is not to give them a copy of your bullet points either.)

    You have to realize, Ed Tufte is all about credibility. Clear coginitive style, density of information, respect for the audience’s intellect, and accessibility of sources all enhance credibility. PowerPoint intrinsically discourages all of these things (when used as a presenter’s main source of structure).

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    Snafu @ 11, wow, a bunch of PowerPoint slides won a contest for the most articulate PowerPoint slides! I guess that proves…uh, what exactly?

  • http://jdueck.net Joel

    Snafu @ 11, wow, a bunch of PowerPoint slides won a contest for the most articulate PowerPoint slides! I guess that proves…uh, what exactly?

  • http://joshschroeder.blogspot.com/ Josh Schroeder

    The guy to pay attention to on PowerPoint (or its Mac equivalent Keynote) is Seth Godin.

    Nine steps to Powerpoint magic
    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/10/nine-steps-to-p.html

  • http://joshschroeder.blogspot.com/ Josh Schroeder

    The guy to pay attention to on PowerPoint (or its Mac equivalent Keynote) is Seth Godin.

    Nine steps to Powerpoint magic
    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/10/nine-steps-to-p.html

  • James Hageman

    Two things come to mind: Reid Buckley’s insistence that a/v helps should be minimally, if ever, used. The other is a memory of returning to seminary as a grad assistant 7 years after I left, and looking a papers written by the seminarians. I first I was astounded; the formatting was so clean and impressive that I wondered how such an improvement had been made in the quality of the students’ work. Then I read. Oh my . . .

  • James Hageman

    Two things come to mind: Reid Buckley’s insistence that a/v helps should be minimally, if ever, used. The other is a memory of returning to seminary as a grad assistant 7 years after I left, and looking a papers written by the seminarians. I first I was astounded; the formatting was so clean and impressive that I wondered how such an improvement had been made in the quality of the students’ work. Then I read. Oh my . . .

  • ptl

    Carl Vehse at 9…..that is awesome, thanks! Do you know what school owns those beautiful black boards?

  • ptl

    Carl Vehse at 9…..that is awesome, thanks! Do you know what school owns those beautiful black boards?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    A few points. First, I don’t think Tufte is really discussing those presentations consisting almost entirely of slides with images, as one might find with an art lecture (cf. the original post, and Sarah’s comment @19). There’s nothing inherently PowerPoint-y about that.

    Second, I think that rebuttals that PowerPoint is merely “a tool” that can be used or abused are missing the point. It’s not even solely a tool — it’s a medium and a tool for working within that same medium.

    The question isn’t so much “Can PowerPoint be used to communicate effectively?” as “What are the inherent assumptions of PowerPoint’s language?” or “What limitations does PowerPoint enforce?” or “How does PowerPoint’s language shape presentations made using it?”

    For example, I’ve seen many (poor) PowerPoint presentations in which the lecturer assumes that he must have a slide for every bit of his talk. If he is talking, there should be a slide that backs up what he’s saying, goes the thinking. This leads to an overabundance of slides, most of which are redundant and stultifying. You don’t need a slide for every point you’re making — you could just make slides to show data, graphs, or photos that back up your talk — but PowerPoint certainly lends itself to the notion that you need to parcel your talk’s outline, piece by agonizing piece, into every slide.

    Owing to PowerPoint’s rigid linear structure, it mainly suggests itself for lectures, not discussions — this is what we’re talking about; don’t make the next slide irrelevant with your questions!

    I might see a use for PowerPoint in helping a speaker to outline his thoughts, as a kind of a poor man’s teleprompter — though in such a case, you wouldn’t need a projector, and could be the only one looking at the laptop screen.

    But I don’t see why nearly every bullet-point-and-clipart presentation couldn’t be converted into a simple (computerless) lecture.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    A few points. First, I don’t think Tufte is really discussing those presentations consisting almost entirely of slides with images, as one might find with an art lecture (cf. the original post, and Sarah’s comment @19). There’s nothing inherently PowerPoint-y about that.

    Second, I think that rebuttals that PowerPoint is merely “a tool” that can be used or abused are missing the point. It’s not even solely a tool — it’s a medium and a tool for working within that same medium.

    The question isn’t so much “Can PowerPoint be used to communicate effectively?” as “What are the inherent assumptions of PowerPoint’s language?” or “What limitations does PowerPoint enforce?” or “How does PowerPoint’s language shape presentations made using it?”

    For example, I’ve seen many (poor) PowerPoint presentations in which the lecturer assumes that he must have a slide for every bit of his talk. If he is talking, there should be a slide that backs up what he’s saying, goes the thinking. This leads to an overabundance of slides, most of which are redundant and stultifying. You don’t need a slide for every point you’re making — you could just make slides to show data, graphs, or photos that back up your talk — but PowerPoint certainly lends itself to the notion that you need to parcel your talk’s outline, piece by agonizing piece, into every slide.

    Owing to PowerPoint’s rigid linear structure, it mainly suggests itself for lectures, not discussions — this is what we’re talking about; don’t make the next slide irrelevant with your questions!

    I might see a use for PowerPoint in helping a speaker to outline his thoughts, as a kind of a poor man’s teleprompter — though in such a case, you wouldn’t need a projector, and could be the only one looking at the laptop screen.

    But I don’t see why nearly every bullet-point-and-clipart presentation couldn’t be converted into a simple (computerless) lecture.

  • Cincinnatus

    I hate PowerPoint unequivocally and for all the reasons cited in the article.

  • Cincinnatus

    I hate PowerPoint unequivocally and for all the reasons cited in the article.

  • Jose Molina

    If you are going to say something silly or to lie your boss in a business meeting, he will believe you if it’s on a well done PowerPoint presentation. I assure you!

  • Jose Molina

    If you are going to say something silly or to lie your boss in a business meeting, he will believe you if it’s on a well done PowerPoint presentation. I assure you!

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    tODD hits it on the head.

    Overhead transparencies (the printed kind, not the ones you use with a marker), PowerPoint and other such software stifle your speech with rigidness. They can be used for good when the presenter shows us examples of what he’s talking about (here’s our new product, here’s the chart of our earnings, here’s the structure of a this particular classical music piece vs. that one, etc). Far far too often the projector gets used as a substitute for a note card or for tacky animations and sound effects. If that’s all you’re using it for, get me a print out so I may read it in a fifth of the time and go do something productive.

    Good presenters will be able to capture your attention and get their point across even if PowerPoint and its cousins didn’t exist. I find it no small wonder that some of the most enjoyable presentations I have sat through or listened to recordings of had no PowerPoint involved.

  • http://simdan.com SimDan

    tODD hits it on the head.

    Overhead transparencies (the printed kind, not the ones you use with a marker), PowerPoint and other such software stifle your speech with rigidness. They can be used for good when the presenter shows us examples of what he’s talking about (here’s our new product, here’s the chart of our earnings, here’s the structure of a this particular classical music piece vs. that one, etc). Far far too often the projector gets used as a substitute for a note card or for tacky animations and sound effects. If that’s all you’re using it for, get me a print out so I may read it in a fifth of the time and go do something productive.

    Good presenters will be able to capture your attention and get their point across even if PowerPoint and its cousins didn’t exist. I find it no small wonder that some of the most enjoyable presentations I have sat through or listened to recordings of had no PowerPoint involved.

  • The Jungle Cat

    I’ve had humanities professors who have used projectors effectively (though few have used powerpoints.) One of the cruellest of tortures of the classroom is when professors make their students listen to an hour-and-a-half lecture in which all they do is read powerpoints. Generally, a powerpoint, when used, should only be a crutch to a lecture made engaging by the speaker. Most people who have managed to use powerpoints in a phenomenal way have been IT experts with interests that expand beyong their expertise, such as Randy Pausch (probably the only person to give a powerpoint presentation that became a YouTube phenomenon) and Steve Jobs (allegedly the king of powerpoint oratory). Anyway, the most one can say for it is that it has been used well in the past, but most people should probably not do it–and, for those who do, just remember that it isn’t there to make your job as an orator easier.

  • The Jungle Cat

    I’ve had humanities professors who have used projectors effectively (though few have used powerpoints.) One of the cruellest of tortures of the classroom is when professors make their students listen to an hour-and-a-half lecture in which all they do is read powerpoints. Generally, a powerpoint, when used, should only be a crutch to a lecture made engaging by the speaker. Most people who have managed to use powerpoints in a phenomenal way have been IT experts with interests that expand beyong their expertise, such as Randy Pausch (probably the only person to give a powerpoint presentation that became a YouTube phenomenon) and Steve Jobs (allegedly the king of powerpoint oratory). Anyway, the most one can say for it is that it has been used well in the past, but most people should probably not do it–and, for those who do, just remember that it isn’t there to make your job as an orator easier.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    Joel #21:
    Did you take a look of those presentations? My point is that they’re based on PowerPoint, but they hardly look anything like traditional PowerPoint. There are games, audio, videos, quizzes, interactive non-linear material and so on. Not just bullet points. It’s all about how you use the medium, not the medium itself (am I repeating something here? ;) )

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    Joel #21:
    Did you take a look of those presentations? My point is that they’re based on PowerPoint, but they hardly look anything like traditional PowerPoint. There are games, audio, videos, quizzes, interactive non-linear material and so on. Not just bullet points. It’s all about how you use the medium, not the medium itself (am I repeating something here? ;) )

  • Orianna Laun

    I like Power Point presentations when the speaker gives the slide notes so that I can keep up and jot my own notes.
    When I taught and did not have my own classroom I liked using Power Point to have all the material there so that I did not have to use classtime to write on and erase the board. I could have the material already laid out. The problem was that the students figured that since I gave them the slide notes, they did not need to write anything down or remember it.

  • Orianna Laun

    I like Power Point presentations when the speaker gives the slide notes so that I can keep up and jot my own notes.
    When I taught and did not have my own classroom I liked using Power Point to have all the material there so that I did not have to use classtime to write on and erase the board. I could have the material already laid out. The problem was that the students figured that since I gave them the slide notes, they did not need to write anything down or remember it.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    tODD is totally right. Power point is fine if you actually have something you really need to show the audience. Some presentations really require visuals, but as tODD points out it has become its own medium.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    tODD is totally right. Power point is fine if you actually have something you really need to show the audience. Some presentations really require visuals, but as tODD points out it has become its own medium.

  • Richard

    What if Gen George Patton gave his famous speech to the Third Army via powerpoint? http://www.threedonia.com/archives/26488

  • Richard

    What if Gen George Patton gave his famous speech to the Third Army via powerpoint? http://www.threedonia.com/archives/26488

  • gary
  • gary
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