Sunday, August 28, 2016

I hate Power Point

Imagine you had to give a presentation to a fairly large group. The topic is something you know something about. The quarterly report. The latest advances in merkins. Whatever.  And while you're delivering this presentation you also have to put on rock climbing gear. Bulky jacket,boots, lacing up the heavy boots, attaching one or two harnesses, stocking up on flares and picks. All this while you're analyzing T.S. Eliot poetry.

Well for the most part, that's what it's like when you do a presentation with PowerPoint. Ive been to a number of conferences lately where good speakers with interesting topics were derailed by PowerPoint presentations. They spent half their talks fumbling around with slides. At first the audience is patient and has a little empathy. But after five minutes you want to scream, "Hey, numnuts! They're friggin' bullet points. Who gives a shit?! Just talk!".

PowerPoint and similar programs kill more lectures than they help. Yes, if you need visuals, fine. Let's say you're explaining how Facebook works or just "what is pornography?"  Slides would help -- in some cases the bigger, the better.

But now you can easily make graphs and graphics to just underscore the text of your talk. 68% of homeowners have spice racks.  "I don't believe you. Oh wait, I'm now looking at a slide of a spice rack and underneath it says 68% of homeowners have these. Okay, you sold me!".

The truth is speakers now use PowerPoint as a crutch. They think the can jazz up their presentations with visual aids. All too often though this results in technical snafus, fumbling around, the wrong slides, and takes the speaker right out of any rhythm. And most of the time the slides are boring, hard to read, and unnecessary.

Some people think if they don't arm themselves with PowerPoint that the audience will think they're unprepared. That's bullshit!

As a speaker, your job is to communicate. Talk to us. Share ideas, if it's a topic you're excited about let us see that.  You don't have to be the worlds greatest speaker. But your genuine enthusiasm will sell your message. Not a dizzying display of pie charts.

A helpful tip that will mean more than a slide proclaiming "4 warning signs of gum decay" is to start your talk with a story. People love stories and it puts them at ease. People think you have to begin with a joke -- the great woody Allen intro: " I'm reminded of the incestuous farmer's daughter...". No. You don't have to do that. If you got a great joke and you're good at delivering jokes then yeah, kill 'em. But a brief story, preferably personal, will achieve the same goal of disarming your crowd.

Speak with passion. Again, you don't have to be Billy Graham or Zig Zigler. But make us understand why the topic is interesting to you. In this case, a well placed word is worth a thousand pictures.

36 comments:

Earl Boebert said...

I have a whole chapter on giving presentations and the evils of PowerPoint in "The Fox Herder's Guide."

Mitchell Hundred said...

Are you familiar with Powerpoint Karaoke? There are a bunch of examples of it up on Youtube.

Terrence Moss said...

I hate powerpoint for this very reason. It has become a major crutch. I miss dry erase boards.

Michael said...

Yes and no. I'm with Ken: Powerpoint often gums up the works.

But I teach at UNLV. Last semester, I did two big lecture halls. Had I written on the board, most of them would have had trouble seeing it. Doing powerpoints gave them information that I then didn't have to give.

Also, I like to think they work if they're done right, and there's one I know I got right. I was talking about the Bill of Rights and showed a protest on waterboarding, then a photo of the Nevada gas chamber chair, which we have at our Mob Museum. I pointed out there's a lot of debate about whether those are cruel and unusual under the 8th Amendment. Then I showed a photo of Justin Bieber. There's NO debate about that one.

David P said...

Read the works of Edward Tufte; you'll discover that PowerPoint and its ilk contributed directly to the loss of the Columbai.

DwWashburn said...

PowerPoint is dreadful in the hands of people who don't know how to use it. As with any presentation, you rehearse and rehearse before you present. You get to the meeting room ten to fifteen minutes before the presentation to make sure the AV system is working properly.

As far as the actual presentation, you never read directly from the slide. A slide should contain no more than four lines and twenty five words. And if graphs or pictures will say the same thing as words, don't use text.

PowerPoint is like an automobile. When used properly, it can get you where you want to be quickly and efficiently. When used incorrectly, it can be deadly.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Ken. Gotta disagree. I used to lose my place when I had pages of notes, but with Power Point it helps me keep on topic. Each slide has a short statement which I then elaborate on it.

As for the wrong slide appearing, I have no idea how that could happen. It's not like each page is on a separate slide and you put them into the carrousel wrong. With Powerpoint (or keynote for Mac) before you give the speech the first time you scroll down and move each slide into the order you want. Once you're done there is no way they can get out of order.

And finally, the people used to spend all their time taking notes on what I was saying. Now they photograph each slide with their phones and use that as the same kind of memory jog it is for me. That means they are spending more time listening to what I'm saying than writing down disjointed and hastily put together notes that won't make such sense later. -MW

Matt said...

A friend of mine who is the trainer in our office has a picture of Lawrence Fishburn in his Matrix getup on with the caption, "imagine a world where making a PowerPoint slide is NOT the same as teaching."

However they do have their uses. As an Army Captain we had classes on how to use PowerPoint. The key points were:
1. Don't read your slides,
2. Use color schemes that don't offend,
3. Everything must be readable by the person in the last row,
4. View your slides in the room of the presentation before the presentation.

But they do have their purposes. When describing a country a map may be useful.

Professor HJR said...

And furthermore

I was at an academic conference where everyone in the audience had multiple post-graduate degrees. The presenter put his research paper into a series of slides that he not only read to us line-by line, but used a laser pointer to show us each word as he read it. At our campus University Senate, the room is filled with representatives of each academic department on campus, plus deans, the provost and the university president, with presenter's to lead discussion on a report that was provided to everyone in advance. However, before the discussion begins, those present must endure the report in PowerPoint form that is read to the room line by line, in service to the illiterate members of the faculty.

What a waste of time...........

blinky said...

The orientation lecture in Hell is a PowerPoint presentation given by Satan himself. It lasts an eternity, literally.

brian t said...

I can point you at an example of a PowerPoint presentation done well, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL_-1d9OSdk

Greg Ehrbar said...

Blinky reminded me of a Night Gallery episode in which a hippie (John Astin!) falls into hell, where he must spend eternity watching an older couple show slides of their vacation. The twist was that the couple was in heaven at the same time, because spending eternity doing what they loved to do best.

cd1515 said...

totally agree Ken.
every powerpoint I've had to sit thru was just the person READING EXACTLY WHAT WE COULD SEE, line for line.
and if the slide was titled, say, "4 KEYS TO BAKING COOKIES," we'd see all 4 at once but he'd spend forever on #1, while we all think "Jesus, how long's it gonna take him to get thru all 4 if #1 is taking this long?"
and some of them even have the slide number at the bottom and how many there will be overall, ie 4/74, which makes it even more interminable.

lawrence said...

Echoing blinky's comment

https://ils.unc.edu/courses/2013_spring/inls261_001/images/tasks/task06.presentation/PPT.NewYorker.cartoon.png

emily said...

So, I was reading "The Art of Graphix" from back in 2013, and what did I see?

“A large number of good speakers with interesting topics are derailed by PowerPoint presentations. They spent half their talk fumbling around with slides, until the audience, sometimes with little compassion, screams: “Hey, ding bat, leave the slides and just talk!”
A big joke: Presenters often feel they have to begin with a joke, but sometimes a joke is worse than gum decay. Remember the great Woody Allen intro: “I’m reminded of the incestuous farmer’s daughter...”. No, it’s not necessary. If you are good at delivering jokes, then yes, but a brief story will achieve the same objective of disarming your audience.”

Gee, that looked familiar...

Mike said...

@emily: Is this a Melania Trump moment?

Allison said...

I was once asked to provide slides for a 3 minute talk. I explained that I was fully capable of talking without slides. I was BEGGED to submit slides I finally told them I would make slide, not slideS and the guy almost cried with joy. Of all the talks, I killed it, and didn't talk to the slide at all.

I would like to see calculations on productivity lost due to Powerpoint.

Andy Rose said...

Reading from a Powerpoint is as bad as starting a speech with "Webster's Dictionary defines my topic as..." If your speaker's first Powerpoint slide IS a definition, you know you're in for a very long meeting.

Anonymous said...

@Allison,
We can do that, we'll have it ready in a few days and put it on a Powerpoint display and present the findings. There will be cookies.
Dave.

Dylan Walton said...

Reminds me of the underrated Australian political comedy "The Hollowmen."

One of the running jokes is how the Secretary and Under-Secretary of a relevant government department cant do anything without a Powerpoint presentation. In one instance when another character exasperatingly demands they get to the point, these two typical public service bureaucrats spend a full thirty seconds flipping through 87 slides before finally arriving at the relevant information.

It's presented as comedy, but I've heard people refer to this show as a true-to-life horror story.

Roger R. said...

Would you be so kind as to post the gum decay slide?

Tammy said...

Emily and Mike: Google tells me this is actually this is a repost from May 16th, 2012. So it's the author of The Art of Graphix who needs to explain herself... (Why Ken didn't point this out himself I have no idea.)

Johnny Walker said...

I think everyone's hit the nail in the head: People's misuse of a simple tool, for no other reason than they think they're supposed to have slides, only undermines what they're trying to achieve: Clarity of their message.

How typical that people get caught up in the wrong sorts of details. Like co-founders getting hung up on their company name or logo, instead of focusing on making their company actually work.

Or a screenwriter spending more time on formatting their script than the dialogue.

I think these sorts of superficial details are easy to get hung up on, because they're easier problems to solve, and they give the illusion of making important progress.

Nobody ever left a presentation complaining about the choice of font on slide 4, but they will complain about not being engaged with what you we're trying to communicate.

Ted Kilvington said...

I am required to use PowerPoint slideshows for all my presentations at work, but I make the most of it. When I am finished with my talk I feel confident that I have made the magic of audits of government records come alive!

Anonymous said...

Best critique of Powerpoint
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/30/microsoft-power-point

Daniel said...

The Gettysburg Address as a PowerPoint presentation. I originally saw this at one of Edward Tufte's lectures.

http://norvig.com/Gettysburg/

Anonymous said...

In every case mentioned above the problem isn't Powerpoint, it's bad Powerpoint. Done well it can help a speech. Done badly, it's that guy with the laser pointer pointing out every word. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. -MW

Jerry Krull said...

Don McMillan is a comedian who makes a very good living doing corporate events. One of his comedy bits is "Life After Death by Powerpoint".

Tom said...

As someone who has to do these things, I've always liked columnist Roger Simon's description of PowerPoint.
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0912/81618_Page2.html

Brian said...

Power point chicken:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL_-1d9OSdk

Somebody beat me to the Don McMillian comment!

JoeyH said...

I recommend a book called Presentation Zen. It has great advice on how to use graphics to enhance your message, not distract from it.

Diane D. said...

Ken
Why didn't you point out that you had been plagiarized when Emily told you she read that article with wording identical to yours, but thought it was published first. (Thanks for telling us, Tammy). Aren't you going to address it with the author of the article? You're such a stickler (and rightly so) about people giving credit if they use something of yours, I was just puzzled that you didn't address it.

Ken Levine said...

I am unfamiliar with this other article, but yes, mine is a re-post from four years ago.

Bob said...

Back in my corporate days, we had a CEO who, for big presentations, hired an outside company to create his slides, had artists standing by, had a separate notes deck, and made multiple last-minute changes during rehearsals. He was replaced with a CEO, who for his first big presentation, showed up with a title slide, 7 or 8 photographs and actually talked TO the audience. Guess which CEO was more successful?

Unknown said...

It is not just powerpoint, it is movies too. HEY!! I can read, I read the book, why do you have to change everything in the movie?? The book is always better

Andrew said...

Ken, if you haven't seen them already, take a look at the Dilbert cartoons regarding PowerPoint. Everything you complained about is demonstrated there.
http://dilbert.com/search_results?terms=Powerpoint