The Powerpoint Hammer

North Coast Online, an interesting and oftentimes over-the-top local conservative blog site (I cringe at many of his articles but he forces me to think), has an interesting article on Powerpoint presentations.  In a nutshell:  Powerpoint presentations are worthless pieces of crap and a miserable alternative to speaking.

Sleeping ManI agree on the “miserable alternative to speaking” part.  However, it’s not Powerpoint that’s the problem, it’s the people who abuse Powerpoint that are the problem.  Like a hammer in a toolbox, Powerpoint is a great tool but when you treat it as the only tool then your remodeling job will not go well.

The U.S. Department of Labor put out a report several years ago that examined the relevance of various forms of presentation methods, and found that a combination of speaking and visual aids improved long-term retention of the presented material.  This gives good rationale for using Powerpoint and similar visual tools in presentations, but too often the speaker simply parrots the information rather than providing the essence on the slides, and talking about the details. 

Whenever I do a presentation I take the minimalist approach to the visual aids – usually just the basics – and make sure that the audience is watching me and not the slides.  It’s okay for them to glance over to the screen on occasion but if that’s where they are spending their time then I know they’re not listening to me – a sure way to lose my audience.  It’s the combination of good oratory, good visuals and audience participation that make a presentation worthwhile.

Nancy Stern notes that it takes considerable effort to put together such a presentation, and plenty of practice.  That many presenters don’t do this because of time constraints, lack of experience or simply because they are lazy, is the real reason why Powerpoint gets a bad rap.

It’s not the hammer, it’s the person wielding it that makes it a either useful or a dangerous tool

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