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We Have Met the Enemy & His Name Is PowerPoint

April 27, 2010

Just had to share this great New York Times article, which details the military’s pervasive overreliance on PowerPoint and its oversimplification of everything, including “dumb-dumb bullets,” “PowerPoint Rangers,” “hypnotizing chickens,” and “death by PowerPoint.”

As I’ve noted on this blog before, and as information design expert Dr. Edward Tufte of Yale University has observed, PPT “often reduces the analytical quality of presentations…usually weaken[s] verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt[s] statistical analysis.”

Tufte is right that PowerPoint is frequently overused. Sometimes a few well-written paragraphs are much more thoughtful, persuasive, and appropriate than the dumbed-down bullets and “smarmy, incoherent…chartjunk” (as he calls it) that PPTs so often display. PowerPoint is a medium that is easily misused to obfuscate rather than illuminate, bore rather than inform, and embellish rather than educate.

But PPT does have a place. In fact, I use it often, personally. When used well, it can supplement a presentation, talk, or briefing very nicely…as long as the speaker uses it with some skill, forethought, and restraint. (Please, no fancy animation or transitions.)

Indeed, a handful of experts have disputed Tufte’s claim that PowerPoint is evil, and say the real question is whether PPT is used effectively by the speaker — or not. So, to sum up:

PowerPoint Problems

  • Overuse
  • Overreliance
  • Oversimplification
  • Overly maligned
  • Over and out
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One Comment leave one →
  1. mcswainstarrett permalink*
    May 4, 2010 4:56 pm

    Another point of view: Dave Paradi (the “Think Outside the Slide” guy) takes issue with blaming the software rather than the user. He says blaming PPT for the war is like blaming Excel for the financial crisis. He’s got some interesting points at http://pptideas.blogspot.com/2010/04/if-powerpoint-caused-war-excel-caused.html

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