In defense of PowerPoint

by

This article , “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint”, was at the top of the New York Times “most emailed” list so I felt compelled to respond. The article quotes army commanders who joke about the junior lieutenants being “PowerPoint Rangers” and say things like “behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making.”

I’ve found it to be just the opposite.

So I’d like to take a moment to defend PowerPoint. But before I do, I must clarify that I’m not defending PowerPoint itself, but the use of a tool like PowerPoint, which happens to be the most pervasive application to support projected presentations and written reports. Despite my love for Microsoft Excel and my respect for Microsoft Word, I don’t find Microsoft PowerPoint to be anything more than adequate in its space. (I’m looking forward to trying KeyNote, Apple’s presentation program, when my iPad gets here later today). But I do spend a lot of time in PowerPoint, probably more time than in anything other than meetings.

I also must acknowledge that 90% of PowerPoint users are abusers. They make slides that are far too complicated, like the illustration at the top of the article. They create long lists of bullets that bore and confuse people. They put too many ideas on one page. Or they have too few ideas on a page with an incomplete message. And most of them have 10 times as many slides as they need!

When used appropriately, PowerPoint provides advantages over other forms of communication (e.g. pure verbal delivery, emails, or written prose) from development through delivery of good communication:

  1. When conducting an analysis, building towards a final presentation ensures logical, complete analysis with focused, more efficient data gathering
  2. When writing up the conclusions, having a “storyboard” can speed up writing time and help facilitate collaboration between authors
  3. When presenting the communication, it is easier for the receiver of the communication to follow along, assuming the story is laid out logically and the information is organized in a method easier to digest.

The guys interviewed in the article poke fun at the emphasis on creating a “storyboard”. But the idea behind storyboarding is to ensure the message is delivered in a way that will help the audience understand quickly and frame discussions most effectively. Most people deliver communications in the way they came to the conclusion, versus the way their audience will most efficiently and effectively receive it.

At Thought Ensemble we focus on creating “killer” slides, those pages that summarize an issue or help dissect a problem to support choosing a path forward. Jim and I spent hours on one slide (i.e. page) this week. It was a summary of the strategic issues facing one of our CIO clients. The slide was organized into four categories (strategy, organization, delivery model, technology), with pithy bullets and a mini-chart for each one. He showed it to the CFO, who said it was so dead on she was going to frame it. When we come back to the executive team with our final report, it may be 10-20 pages but every page will be insightful and the pages will be organized to tell a story that will help the group make well-informed, thoughtful decisions.

I could write a novel on this, but I wouldn’t. I’d make a PowerPoint presentation. Oh, I already did, back when I used to teach writing training… so if you want more info, let me know!

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