Slide Illustrating Bad Features of PowerPoint

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Slide Illustrating Bad Features of PowerPoint
Slide Illustrating Bad Features of PowerPoint

My posts on PowerPoint this week have emphasized more negatives than positives.  A couple of you pointed me to an article in Slate from yesterday that identifies positive uses for slide software—“No More Bullet Points, No More Clip Art.”  The author makes the point that bad presentations should not be blamed on the software, which is a neutral tool that can be used for good or evil.  Many of you have made the same point.  “But if you use it correctly, slide software can help you captivate and inform an audience in a way that a speech alone could never manage.”

The article offers the following suggestions for when to use PowerPoint or any other presentation software.  “First, make sure your topic is right for PowerPoint.”  He uses Edward Tufte’s example involving the space shuttle Columbia and says that “it is a bad choice for topics that involve complex, number-heavy scientific or technical data.”  He also endorses “[t]he two iron laws of PowerPoint: You must be speaking to a large audience, and your topic must benefit from visuals.”  I’m not persuaded about the first law—I think there are circumstances when good visuals can help even with smaller audiences.  The article also advocates against using bullet points because it turns “a presentation into a series of boring lists” and because “you’re bound to start reading them out to the audience, which is the worst sin of PowerPoint.”

The article includes several nice examples of effective slide presentations.  Al Gore uses slides with wonderful visual images—a mix of charts, photographs, and videos—to illustrate his talk on the environment.  Steve Jobs uses slides “creating something closer to a movie than a slide show” in his talk unveiling the iPhone.  Both keep the use of text to a bare minimum, and instead they use visual images that illustrate their words, and it makes their presentations much more interesting.  The article uses a presentation by Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig to illustrate that slide software can make impenetrable subjects mesmerizing.  It is worth looking at because it is very different from the other examples.  He is illustrating a talk about the Google book search lawsuit—which is more like many of our presentations than the other examples.

I was glad to see this article because I don’t want to end this series on PowerPoint on a negative note (this is the end, I promise).  I will continue to use PowerPoint in my presentations, and I hope to use it more effectively.  Dale Roenigk has offered to pull together some informal sessions so that we can share ideas.  I look forward to those sessions and to learning from all of you.

2 thoughts on “PowerPoint: One More Word

  1. The times when I have found Power Point presentations useful has been when the user did something similar to Steve Jobs in “creating something closer to a movie than a slide show” . When I have been the user, it has proven to be most helpful for audiences when there was data I wanted to portray throughout my talking. For example, I could leave a chart up for several minutes while I spoke instead of having a slide for each portion of the talk. I don’t agree that Power Point is making us dumber but I believe that it has made many of us lazy in interacting and connecting with the audience. I see its use similar to that of make-up: it’s intent is to enhance not to substitute!

  2. I admittedly came late to this powerpoint blog discussion party…where do you all get your time? It’s been interesting reading Mike’s posts, the comments, and following the many links shared. I like the article that Jill M. shared and tend to subscribe to the it’s-just-a-tool philosophy (giving me a hammer, doesn’t make me a good builder, any more than conferring a degree on any of us make us a good teacher, or handing us a mic make us a good communicator). All the best presentation examples were created with the same presentation tools that created the poor examples. I wouldn’t have likely read (or continued reading) Ann McColl’s constitutional tales articles, but I *did* find her superb, well-rehearsed and content-heavy, presentations to be very engaging and instructive…and left me wanting more.
    I’ve been to some to some presentations in the school where eliminating powerpoint alone would be a mistake. Replacing it with a group activity, or Turningpoint activity would probably have helped, but I echo (and extend) advice from Richard W. that slides should support specific learning objectives and if we’re not clear on those, well, a review of those may be in order–If our slides are overloaded, we just simply may be trying to convey too much stuff.
    So, as I see it, *WE* …and the *TOPIC* to a lesser extent are the primary variables in the equation.
    Most tools, however, do suggest ways to use them and hint at inherent affordances. For example,, and… and for that matter, rooms 2601, 2401 and 1300 all suggest quite varied methods of communication.
    It is from example, precedent and our peers that we often take our cues. We need to more consistently be seeing good examples. To that end, I like Dale R.’s suggestion that we set a (regular?) time to get together to share examples and lessons learned…Berating poor presentations, and inappropriately applied tools is easy. Improving our own is hard.
    TLS already has available for checkout 3 great resources (books) “Beyond Bullet Points”, “Slide:ology” and “Presentation Zenn”–my fav).
    Caution: Improvement takes work, practice and feedback. Lest you think you’ll change by reading a book or having someone tell you how to make a good presentation.
    We do so many presentations in the building, its probably a good idea we spend more time improving our craft.
    Thanks Mike (and originally Maureen Burner) for bringing this to the fore. I motion to make Mike our newest TLS blog contributor.
    (..and finally for the record, the horrifically-complex-diagram-of-the-war-in-Afghanistan-now-the-poster-child-of-the-blogosphere-wide-discussion-of-PowerPoint was not even created using PowerPoint.)
    -Joel G.

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