Lucy Kellaway gets nostalgic whenever she thinks of the prehistoric flip-chart pad and its unwieldly aluminium legs.
She has managed not to use PowerPoint as a presenter, even though she has been forced to watch more PowerPoint slides than she can count.
And what have I got from the experience? It is hard to say because my default reaction has been to blank it. I can’t remember one single slide that I’ve ever been shown. And as I must have been shown hundreds of thousands of them altogether, a hit rate of zero seems rather on the low side. This doesn’t mean I’ve never sat through a good PowerPoint presentation. But when I have, it has been because the person speaking managed to get a message across despite the distracting visual clamour going on behind them.
The Anti PowerPoint party has attempted to calculate the economic damage of gawping at all these slides and has concluded that Europe wastes €110bn a year from people sitting though dull presentations.
I suspect the true figure is even worse, as this ignores the secondary effects. PowerPoint must be the least enjoyable way of wasting time there is; a heavy slideshow can leave one feeling grumpy and passive and in no frame of mind for proper work.
Worse, it lowers the quality of discussion and leads to bad decisions. PowerPoint performs the miracle of making things simultaneously too simple and too complicated. It reduces subtle ideas to bullet points, while it encourages you to pad out a presentation with irrelevant data because cutting and pasting is far too easy.
The APPP is hoping to fight PowerPoint through peaceful means; it wants lots of journalists to write articles just like this one. Even if lots do, I hold out little hope of success. The seminal, devastating article on the subject, PowerPoint is Evil, was written by Edward Tufte in 2003 and published in Wired. And what has happened since then? Nothing, except that PowerPoint has gone on getting bigger.
Persuading everyone to stop using PowerPoint is going to be much harder than persuading them, say, to reuse plastic bags or get the loft insulated. People cling to it for three powerful reasons. First, because everyone else does. Second, because it is much easier than writing a proper speech, where you have to think carefully about what you are saying ahead of time. Third, and most important, PowerPoint assuages speakers’ nerves – standing in a room with low lights, dumbly following prompts on a screen is not all that frightening.
Kellaway thinks the APPP is too tame, and needs to resort to direct action:
…which would advocate cutting the wire in the middle of the table that connects the laptop to the projector. Or it could help people tamper with slides, inserting at random ones that said: “HERE IS ANOTHER DULL SLIDE” or showed a picture of people fast asleep.
Better still would be to campaign for an outright ban. In a world without the crutch of PowerPoint, presentations would be fewer in number – people would be put off by nerves and by the hard slog of preparation – and shorter. It might even mean that audiences listened. The human voice, especially when connected to a brain that has done some thinking, and a body that has done some rehearsing, can be a wonderful, memorable thing.
What’s your experience as a presenter or as someone on the receiving end? Is this just a needless rant from a bunch of technological luddites? Or a genuine insight into the way we have been duped into using something we don’t want and don’t really need?
Most Catholic churches in this country don’t have a screen and projector mounted in the sanctuary, but I’ve been to a service in the US where an evangelical preacher used PowerPoint slides to illustrate his sermon. I liked it! But don’t worry – I wouldn’t want it during Mass…