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Monday January 15 2007

Never having used Powerpoint to give talks, I don’t understand why it is so evil, although several of my friends and many bloggers and writers whom I have randomly read say that it is.

Here is a typical example the kind of nasty thing I keep reading about Powerpoint:

Historians at the American Institute of Physics (AIP), who are working on a project to document the history of physics in industry, have encountered hints of how the Internet and computers are transforming scientific communication.

E-mail is, of course, cheaper and encourages quicker thought, and it introduces a peculiar blend of the personal and professional. The AIP historians have also detected a decline in the use of lab notebooks, finding that data are often stored directly into computer files. Finally, they have noted the influence of PowerPoint, which can stultify scientific discussion and make it less free-wheeling; information also tends to be dumbed down when scientists submit PowerPoint presentations in place of formal reports.

If I myself regularly used Powerpoint, I might by now have learned what is so evil about it.  As it is, I do not know and would love to be told.  Why does just making a list of things to talk about and putting something like a big black spot to the left of each of these points make things evil?  Or: giving a talk with a series of slides with big words on them, if only to remind you of what you want to say next?  Why is that evil?  What am I missing?

Or to put it another way, this is a memo from me to me (a characteristic type of posting at this blog) to ask the next friend who talks to me about the evil of Powerpoint to explicate.  Comments welcome of course.

I’m a physicist who fits that description.

I don’t think there’s necessarily a problem with Powerpoint in itself. I can see that there would be a problem if, when giving a presentation, the only tool you have is Powerpoint and you’re not provided with something like a whiteboard to write on.

“Free-wheeling” discussion in physics needs something to write on. It’s very hard to talk about equations without having them in front of you. So, if someone says “I don’t believe equation 3. Can you derive it for us?” and all you have is Powerpoint, then it’s difficult to give an answer on the spot.

In the past, you would use an overhead projector, and even if your host didn’t supply writing materials, you would bring your own blank slides and pens, so there wouldn’t be a problem.

Posted by Andy Wood on 15 January 2007

It’s less PowerPoint itself, and more how the vast majority of people abuse it. For instance, doing what you describe above - putting lots of text on it, as if it were Word. People over-rely on the fact that they have a captive audience and something they’ll all be staring at, then fail to do anything interesting with the space; they just use it as a cribe sheet of notes.

Personally, I try to make sure any PPT I do is 99.9% images which illustrate the concepts or ideas I’m speaking about. People reading off the screen while you’re talking to them is never good.

Posted by Jackie D on 15 January 2007

Powerpoint puts people to sleep.
I happened to find my economics classes interesting, but the professor who used Powerpoint regularly put most of his class to sleep.

If you must use it, try to limit how much text you put up.  Your audience will just read the text and then zone out on you as you go over it.  Stick to maps, diagrams, pictures, etc… This is how you avoid becoming superfluous.  That economics professor I mentioned put every bit of text on the slides, and he handed out paper copies too!  I am a compulsive reader, but I had to avoid reading in that class or else I would have gone to sleep too.

There is a sort of “tyranny of the medium” too.
For powerpoint in particular, the darkened room, the one bright shiny panel- seems at lot like hypnosis.
I don’t know what to do about that, but I’d end up with good questions about an hour and a half later, after the effects wore off.  That’s probably were the evil feeling comes from.

Posted by August on 15 January 2007

I think it too often changes the nature of a lecture or a paper. Instead of listening to a paper, internalising points, recognising structure, and basically thinking things through, Powerpoint externalises it all for you.

It supposedly makes it all the more interactive but actually does the reverse. It simplifies to the point of boredom, reducing interestingly complex things to bullet points. Often being in a somewhat darkened room doesn’t help the listener keep awake.

Posted by David B on 15 January 2007

Brian, I was forced to Powerpoint in order to help my 11-year-old son with his homework!

I find nothing evil about it, if all you are doing is trying to communicate info in short order, to a busy audience, which is uncritical - i.e. a teacher who is marking stuff in a hurry, done by 11-y-0lds or university students answering an assignment.

It is a boon, I would have thought, for hard-pressed and underfunded uni depts who, 30 years ago, would have had to make “slides”, at great cost and time, and to the great benefit of “photographers” (who remembers what those are! I funded myself at University by being one for three years) who “used” “film”, and took “!time”.

So long as you have the ability to exit the thread of the “presentation” for a bit, and “discuss”, I can’t se a problem. DD

Posted by David Davis on 16 January 2007

Peter Norvig did a pretty good hatchet job on Powerpoint at http://norvig.com/Gettysburg/

Posted by alecm on 17 January 2007

I think Powerpoint is designed to convey information of a certain level of detail and a certain level of depth. It is fine for presentations that fit that template - corporate strategy meetings perhaps.

However, it doesn’t work well for presentations that don’t fit in that template, and it doesn’t work well for presentations that involve more technological sophistication. I think the problem with it is that there is a certain type of person who thinks that it is the perfect tool for all presentations, and that if somebody can’t fit their presentation into it then that is the failure of the person rather than the tool .

I second Andy’s point. Any kind of presentation (particularly on technical or mathematical subjects) where there is interaction from the audience is greatly aided by something that the speaker can write on that the audience can see.  The best such tool is in my mind a blackboard or whiteboard, but an overhead projector, blank transparencies, and a set of pens is also fine.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 18 January 2007

Here is one of the best uses (and I’d say the only justified use) of powerpoint… :)

http://www.crypticide.com/dropsafe/articles/blogs/post20060530225339.html

Posted by Adriana on 19 January 2007

It’s not just boring to look at, its also boring to work with. I make a point now of doing any work-related presentation in Adobe Flash, since you can incorporate video and a plethora of other things into it much more easily, and which will export to Powerpoint now.

Posted by Julian Taylor on 19 January 2007

Tufte on powerpoint for Wired mag.

Posted by Ross Parker on 30 January 2007

sorry, but i beg to disagree with this… powerpoint is still good to use in making presentations… check this site to know more about powerpoint and powerpoint presentation templates:

http://www.free-power-point-templates.com/

Posted by jaypee on 22 April 2010
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