Zombie PowerPoint

or, Why PowerPoint Cannot Die

PowerPointThe YouTube video Death by PowerPoint is really, well, to the point.  Yet, despite obvious abuses, PowerPoint is here to stay.

Powerpoint is the perfect vehicle for bulleted and numbered lists. We are addicted to lists.  What do you think most people will click on:

  • Study shows correlation between polyphenols and health, or
  • Five Reasons to Drink Green Tea

Numbered lists are deeply enticing and deeply irresistible.  “I-will-not-click-on-five-foods-you-should-never-eat!”

We are criticized for our shrunken attention spans. But, is this really what is going on?  There are two reasons for reading: pleasure and utility.  Generally we choose novels, travelogues, and blogs for pleasure. The rest of the time we want information. A simple and clear informational writing style is very helpful.  Just learn to recognize those who are trolling for clicks, and remember no one ever claimed informational writing is literature.

The slide heading makes your point up front.  When my Granny wants to share something, she will start somewhere out in left field and circle closer and closer to her final point.  I try to be attentive and manage (most of the time) to not blurt out “I am not sure I understand your point.” While it seems logical to start with the supporting information and finally end with the conclusion, it is actually much more useful to your audience, even in casual conversation, to provide the punch line and then give your evidence.  Unless you are telling a joke or a story, which is usually introduced by “Do you want to hear a joke/story?”

After ten minutes Granny may finally say “and that is why I am going to drink green tea.”  However, it is not that uncommon for her point to get lost.  Sometimes my ADD-afflicted and impatient husband will pick up on something she said and take the conversation in an entirely different direction.  Sometimes she just forgets to say what the point is.

PowerPoint forces the point.  The slide heading might be “Economic Slowdown Ahead” and the slide will give a half a dozen bullet points to support that conclusion, or will provide a simple graphic.  It is all there in one visual.  Brilliant.

Quantity alone will tell you if you are off track.  PowerPoint has a great built-in metric: if your presentation is more than twenty slides, it is probably too long.  Just the raw numbers alone force you to go back and re-think your audience and the takeaway you are seeking.  How many concepts can you touch on in one talk before your message is blurred?  How many slides can you have on one topic before you become repetitive?

PowerPoint supports the spoken word.  It is not a communication tool by itself.  It must be accompanied by a narrative.  It provides a framework for the narrative, not only keeping the speaker on track, but by providing visuals to engage the audience.

We had a senior leader who would engender (under the breath) groans whenever anyone said “and Bill, would you like to say a few words?”  Why? Because when Bill spoke without a structure, what would surely ensue would be a 20 minute ramble rather than the five succinct minutes that were called for.

It is this area where I think PowerPoint is most unfairly criticized.  When people like my presentation and then say “please send me your PowerPoint” I think to myself that the person liked my speech, not merely the prop that went along with it.  PowerPoint is not content rich.  The paradox of PowerPoint is that more content equals less impact.

I will send along the PowerPoint anyway.  If they look at it next week or next month I am sure they will find it sorely lacking.  You know, lacking my actual presentation.

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