Thoughts on PowerPoint

By Deane Barker on October 26, 2003

The Level of Discourse Continues to Slide: This is a short but interesting piece on the “damage” that PowerPoint has done to discourse and presentation skills in the last ten years.

“Once upon a time, a party host could send dread through the room by saying, ‘Let me show you the slides from our trip!’ Now, that dread has spread to every corner of the culture, with schoolchildren using the program to write book reports, and corporate managers blinking mindlessly at PowerPoint charts and bullet lists projected onto giant screens as a disembodied voice reads every word on every slide.”

The author talks at length about the Columbia disaster and the shortcomings of the PowerPoint presentation produced to dissmeninate the results of the report. Edward Tufte, the accepted master of visual presentations, even wrote an essay all about one slide of this presentation. (If you ever get a chance, read some Tufte. He’s very good.)

I recently bought Seth Godin’s $1.99 eBook at Amazon called “Really Bad PowerPoint and How to Avoid It.” It was quite good for 10 pages, the most memorable point being that no slide should ever contain more than six words. I’ve heard this before from Larry Lessig, who is becoming known as a PowerPoint vituoso:

“…if you want to understand the ‘power’ in PowerPoint, watch a Lawrence Lessig presentation. They are a fantastic combination of content, art and brand (if you’ve seen one of Professor Lessig’s PowerPoint presentations, you’ll forever associate the white typewriter font on black blackground with Lessig — in fact, the association is so strong that Professor Zittrain was able to get a big laugh at iLaw by simply converting one of his slides into the Lessig style).”

That link includes a mirrored copy of one of Lessig’s PowerPoint files. It’s very much worth looking at.

For a while, the U.S. Army was becoming so horribly entrenched in PowerPoint that humor like this developed:

“This is my PowerPoint. There are many like it but mine is 7.0.

My PowerPoint is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life.

My PowerPoint without me is useless. Without my PowerPoint, I am useless.

I must format my slides true. I must brief them better than the other J-cells who are trying to out brief me. I must brief the impact on the CINC before he asks me. I will!”