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Posts Tagged ‘Powerpoint’

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…

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Comic Book Struck by SheWatchedTheSky.With today’s Guardian you get a free facsimile copy of the children’s comic Whizzer and Chips – the edition from 8th April 1978. Holding it in my hands sent a wave of nostalgia rushing over me. I remember racing down the hill every saturday morning to the corner-shop, clutching my pocket-money – enough for a comic and a bag of penny sweets. I’m sure there were others, but my strongest memories are of Whizzer and Chips, Bullet (adventure stories in serial), and then 2000 AD – with the groundbreaking science-fiction art. I have the first two or three hundred copies stashed away somewhere with my old toys and schoolbooks; they must be collectables worth a fortune by now.

 

There is a lot to learn from the structure of the classic one-page comic strip. It forces you to think clearly. You have tVintage Ad #401: How's Trix? by jbcurio.o tell the story in a few simple frames. Each frame has to be clear and interesting in its own right. And each frame has to flow out from the previous one, while still containing some element of surprise. It’s this delightful combination of novelty and inevitability that keeps the story moving. Above all, it has to create a satisfying arc that takes you from A to B in a few simple steps. In other words, the comic strip is an education in how to structure and present a good argument. Most of us teachers would be more effective if we had to learn the discipline of creating a good storyboard.

Powerpoint is meant to help us do this. But for most people its effectiveness is diminished by projecting too many words. A friend of mine who lectures in law has found the perfect solution: She only uses images; ten or twelve for each hour long lecture. She vowed not to use a single word of text on any of her slides. It sounds mad, but apparently it works. Each image represents a single key idea. The result – she tells me – is a presentation that is entertaining and memorable; and the discipline of using only images forces her to tell a good story, and present a sound argument. I wanted to try this in my theology lectures this semester, but I left it too late, and went to the classroom this week with a pile of weighty texts in my hands…

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