PowerPoint, babies and bathwater2010-05-01
Seth Godin’s a pretty smart guy but he’s no more immune than the rest of us from saying dumb things. Last week, in a post that added to the chorus of voices criticizing Microsoft’s PowerPoint, Godin wrote, “If there was any other tool as widely misused in your organization, you’d ban it.”
Not if it was a valuable tool when used correctly, I wouldn’t. After all, if we adhered to that philosophy, we’d ban access to social media in companies where employees abused it. Twenty-five years ago, we would have banned desktop publishing when every department in the company began producing 8-1/2x11-inch newsletters with six columns, 14 fonts and 27 pieces of clip art on every page.
Take a bigger step back and consider painting. The percentage of people who apply brush to canvas and produce beautiful works of art is probably very low. Most who take up painting are rank amateurs and their paintings are awful. Should we ban canvas?
There’s nothing new about the PowerPoint-is-evil meme. Information design wizard Edward Tufte made the evilness assertion in a Wired article back in 2003. The latest brouhaha kicked into gear when The New York Times quoted U.S. Marine Corps Genereal James N. Mattis declaring that “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” The article also recalls that Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster banned PowerPoint in his unit. “It???s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” McMaster told the Times. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
True, but that means people need to be taught the right and wrong uses of PowerPoint. Would you get rid of hammers if your employees were using to pound screws into wood? No, you’d teach them to use a screwdriver and show them when it’s appropriate to use a hammer.
Every PowerPoint presentation begins with a blank slate. The default slide is a title slide, not one for bullet points. Books like “Presentation Zen and Beyond Bullet Points demonstrate how to create amazing presentations in PowerPoint. And who can deny the popularity of SlideShare, which is jam-packed with PowerPoint presentations that have become a resource for all kinds of research.
Even bullets can be useful. When I use them it’s to highlight the transition in my talk from one key theme to another. And Cluetrain co-author David Weinberger sees value in bullets, noting in a recent post, that “we ought to remember that Powerpoint made business thought and expression more rigorous and structured.”
Truth be told, I have seen some amazing presentations created in PowerPoint by people who were well trained and took the time to do it right.
Banning PowerPoint because you haven’t bothered to train people to use it is a classic example of throwing out the baaby with the bathwater.
Searching on phrases like “great PowerPoint presentations,” I came upon dozens of posts that linked to some amazing presentations created with this tool so many people are ready to dismiss. Here are just a couple:
If you search for PowerPoint tips, you’ll find scads of them that smart people have assembled and shared for free on their blogs. There are also plentyh of books that can help, including the two mentioned above and one that’s rarely mentioned but I find incredibly useful: “Purpose, Movement Color,” by Tom Mucciolo.
What are some of your favorite PowerPoint presentations?