A column about writing in business
PowerPoint: Is it Evil?
You've probably heard the PowerPoint jokes. You know: "Death by PowerPoint," and "power corrupts, but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely." It certainly gets a lot of stick. It also has some surprising defenders. (Full disclosure: Microsoft is a client of mine but I don't work for the PowerPoint team.)
For example, Edward Tufte, author the beautifully named Beautiful Evidence, wrote a blistering article in Wired titled PowerPoint is Evil. Not exactly a neutral point of view. He said "The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch." He also complains that it reduces data to meaningless infoporn with little statistical validity.
My favorite PowerPoint parody is the Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation. This was created automagically by the program's auto-content wizard. It's priceless. My favorite bit is the "Review of Key Objectives & Critical Success Factors."
What makes nation unique
- Conceived in Liberty
- Men are equal
- New birth of freedom
- Gov't of/for/by the people
Garr Reynolds, author of the Presentation Zen, doesn't criticize but he does argue that PowerPoint is a blank canvas on which the presenter reveals his own personality. He attacks the concept that PowerPoint is evil at the same time as poking fun at a typical deck. He contrasts the Zen-like Yoda's analogue presentation style with Darth Vader's "Together we can bring order to the galaxy" slide.
If PowerPoint is a medium in its own right, as Reynolds implies, where is its art? David Byrne's book Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information is one attempt at art.ppt. Perhaps there are other examples. If it can be used to make art, even post-modern, ironic, cultural meta-criticism, then it can be used for anything.
Here's my own view. I use it. I prefer pictures to text in presentations because my voice suppliers the word power. I work hard on my speeches - my wife is an actress and theatre director and she rehearses me. I want people to concentrate on me, not the screen. But some things are better said in pictures. I wrote a post a while back on Bad Language arguing that, sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
There is definitely an art to writing for speaking. It involves the control of pace and suspense. The script needs to sound like you when you talk, but more intelligent and more concise. Ten dollar words have no place at all. It's also important to appear human - stories, personal insights, wit (if possible). Learning the material and rehearsing it is the way to get past stage fright and obsession with the process. If you are working with a slide show, making sure the technology is set up and working properly well before you start is critical.
I respect, but don't always follow, Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule ("a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points.") The point about time is especially important. As Churchill said: "The mind cannot absorb more than the seat can endure." Numbness is the product of PowerPoint, not evil.