How much do you rely on Powerpoint? How much does your team rely on PowerPoint for training and education, promotion, etc? The more important question is do you really need PowerPoint at all. I have been pondering this question for the past 10 years (as if I have nothing better to do). It is like an open sore picked at repeatedly because almost every marketing meeting, every internal training, and every CME program I attend is overstuffed with badly done PowerPoint slides. To this crime, I plead guilty. I am both a victim of PowerPoint poisoning, and I am a perpetrator.
My annoyance with PowerPoint began during my first job in Pharma. I would be given a topic to present, spend a week developing a slide set, stay up all night the night before the program tweaking the slides, and then at slide review in the morning before the presentation, my boss often would scrap almost the entire deck and give me his version to present. I thought somehow these humiliations were due to my inexperience or ineptitude until I came across this Dilbert cartoon strip from 1997 (http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/1997-07-20/):
Dilbert: As usual, I worked until midnight last night, Mom.
Mom: Well, at least you made some extra money.
Dilbert: I don’t get paid for over-time.
Mom: Well, at least it was important work.
Dilbert: Not really…. My boss made me change my “PowerPoint” slides, but the changes make them worse.
Mom: Well, at least you’re prepared for your meeting.
Dilbert: It was canceled, but that’s okay, because the project isn’t funded anyway.
Mom: So…you worked for free to worsen a presentation for a meeting that won’t happen for a project that doesn’t exist?
Mom: Well…at least you could travel back in time without having any impact on history.
Dilbert: Yeah, my glass is half full.
After Dilbert, I found Edward Tufte. Please click on this link to see his poster titled, “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within.” http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint
Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University, is an expert on the visual display of quantitative information. He suggests that most data is clearer, richer, and more informative when presented in traditional printed formats, like tables, rather than as PowerPoint “chartjunk,” which he characterizes as “smarmy, chaotic, and incoherent…evidence of statistical stupidity.”
I regard his one-day course, “Presenting Data and Information,” (http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/courses) as a life and mind altering experience. Attendees included, as you might expect, computer graphics designers, educators, writers, and statisticians. But there were unexpected types like the engineers from the local power utility who were designing the graphical user interface to run a power plant. They were building a graphical interface that required care and precision, so that no one might accidentally shut off all the power to Los Angeles by hitting the wrong icon on a touch screen display.
Tufte does the entire daylong course with paper and pages from his books, no slides! If you are, as I am, compelled to use PowerPoint, Tufte does include instructions on how to make slides that convey information with clarity and economy. For example, a well-done slide, if such a thing exists, needs no key, no text notes, and no footnotes. It should be so refined, that the information you wish to convey is immediately comprehensible with no blinking asterisks, flying arrows, spinning doodles, or gaudy colors. Use an “emoticon,” go to jail.
I still make bad slides. I am compelled to such atavistic behavior by unholy forces operating in the workplace. But when I am loosed from my shackles and follow the guidance and counsel of Tufte, my graphics guru, I enjoy presenting ever so much more and I think audiences also benefit.
For the ultimate compilation of Dilbert on PowerPoint, go to PowerPoint Ninja (http://www.powerpointninja.com/for-fun/dilbert-on-powerpoint-presentations/). Between Dilbert and Tufte, you have the formula for the perfect antidote to PowerPoint toxicity.
I would appreciate hearing from people who hate PowerPoint as much as I do. If you love PowerPoint, you’re wrong.