Don’t Blame Powerpoint

Powerpoint(less) presentations have wasted many an hour. They have been deservedly criticized by commentators ranging from Dilbert to Seth Godin.

The problems with slide shows (using PowerPoint or any other technology) ought to be obvious – all too often they substitute form for substance and canned jargon for ideas and analysis. Yet their abuse thrives. They are the marketing monstrosities which pad websites and cause participants at business seminars to head for the exit early.

This should hardly be news, but PowerPoint and its discontents were the subject of the lead article in the New York Times of 4/27/10 titled We Have Met The Enemy And He Is PowerPoint. PowerPoint, it reported, reduced the effectiveness of decision making by the US military. The article included the slide above.

I don’t defend PowerPoint, but the offending slide discussed in the article and the “thinking” which generated it, would be problematic in any medium. It is too dense and ambiguous to work on a screen or in a single presentation. That, not PowerPoint, is the problem. BTW here’s one case where size does not matter. You can click on the slide for a larger, but no more enlightening view.

Slide shows can serve as a useful counterexample of how not to deliver a message. This was captured effectively at the opening of the recent BarCamp 5 “unconference” at MIT. When your marketing has something to say and you have an opportunity to engage, entertain, or edify an audience – let a (few) slides role. In the hands of the skilled it can still be potent. Otherwise spare the slides, your audience and your market.