31, 2003 -- I know it's heresy, but I can't
help myself. I am so over PowerPoint
that I've come to dread attending presentations
or workshops for fear of finding the ubiquitous
beast looming once more on a screen before me.
me be perfectly honest here. I do not care how
clever you might be in manipulating PowerPoint
- your colorful slides, your dramatically dipping,
zooming and expanding text boxes, your catchy
sound clips and dancing web-bots. I would much
rather attend a presentation with a speaker who
has something to say and knows how to say it --
(or, even better, who knows how to facilitate
a good discussion on a topic) -- than watch one
more person read from PowerPoint bullet points.
growing distaste for this exhausted presentation
package has been gnarling at me for quite some
time. It was with great pleasure, then, when I
encountered a Fortune magazine column early
last year titled "Ban
It Now! Friends Don't Let Friends Use PowerPoint."
It was an even greater pleasure when just last
month I happened upon a front page article in
the Chicago Sunday Tribune, "Is PowerPoint
last, perhaps, it is safe for me to come out of
the PowerPoint closet. I loathe PowerPoint!
many reasons. Among them is that I charge PowerPoint
with the homogenization of public discourse at
meetings. At some point at the beginning of the
PC revolution, someone in Redmond, Washington
decided that all presentations should be conducted
with a series of colorful sequential slides, and
that all topics should be reduced to a series
of bullet points. Just as the shift to sound-bytes
on the evening news has dumbed down newscasts,
the universal adoption of bulleted presentations
has dumbed down the exploration of real issues.
live and work in a complex world. We must constantly
contend with shades of meaning that don't allow
us to categorize everything we encounter and learn
into clearly marked white and black buckets. The
pervasive use of PowerPoint, however, fosters
the misguided notion that we live in a fantasy
world where simple truths can be proclaimed and
reduced to a few catchy words on screen. "What
if ...?" my mind screams, as the speaker
quickly advances to the next slide. "What
about ...?" But the slides progress too quickly,
my thoughts remain unspoken, the certainty presented
by the shining images remains unbroken.
what's up with this allegiance to the sequential?
In my experience learning is often not sequential.
It shouldn't be sequential. PowerPoint forces
a presenter to organize ideas from A to Z, and
the walls just might collapse if he or she strays
to point M before presenting idea L.
best learning experiences I have encountered have
been driven by the natural curiosity of participants
who work together in a collegial environment.
And the even better moments occur when we suddenly
veer off track into the wilderness of shared ideas
that are expressed by a group of interested people.
On the other hand, watching even a celebrated
guru step through one dull slide after another
while leading an audience like dimwitted sheep
through a pre-arranged course, gives me the hives.
Way before the end of the lecture, I already know
what's at the end of that chute of colorful slides
-- it's the slaughter of intelligence.
I was invited to Vienna to present a short workshop
on technology to a small but elite group of congress
and tradeshow organizers. Shortly before my trip,
my host called to inquire whether I would be bringing
my own computer for my PowerPoint presentation.
When I said I wasn't going to use PowerPoint,
the silence on the line was palpable. I quietly
and calmly asked, "Is that a problem?"
It was, he said. He didn't think it would be professional
to make a presentation to this group without PowerPoint.
my aching intellect.
relented, and said I'd see what I could do.
I could do was ultimately nothing. As I thought
and thought about it, there was no way I could
accomplish what I wanted to do with this group,
within the confines of PowerPoint.
my workshop in Vienna a panel of airline executives
discussed the state of their industry and explained
how airlines can work more effectively with congress
organizers. Up went the PowerPoint slides, of
course. The first executive read the first slide
verbatim. The second executive read the second
slide. Then it was back to the first executive,
who read the third slide.
get the idea. This went on for 35 minutes. Anyone
whose brain had been functioning before they entered
the room, was comatose by the time the third slide
hit the screen. At the end of the presentation,
the executives congratulated themselves and each
other for their fine presentation, and asked if
there were any questions. I had a question, but
I didn't ask it: "How can you be so cruel
as to force human beings to sit through an experience
it was my turn. I put up one slide. On it was
one word. The word was "PROMISE". I
opened by saying: "Today, we are going to
talk about the promise of technology. We'll talk
about promises made, promises broken, promises
kept, and promises yet to come." Then I turned
off the projector. And for the next forty minutes,
we talked -- together -- about technology. From
the lively discussion, I learned as much, if not
more, than I imparted.
there a place for PowerPoint? Yes, reluctantly,
I will admit that there is. It may be a handy
tool for third grade social study reports, and
kids find it fun and easy to use. It may be a
handy way to interrupt an otherwise human-dimensioned
program, to display some important facts, figures
or charts. For certain scientific or technical
presentations, it may be a good way to display
... and this is the limb I choose to go out on
... it is not a good way to engage an audience.
More often, it is used as a crutch by poor speakers
who focus on the slides on the screen rather than
on the people in the audience.
parting thought: What's up with conference organizers
who demand that all presenters use PowerPoint,
and who further demand that they all use the same
PowerPoint template? Talk about mind-numbing conformity!
Should every session at a conference REALLY be
like every other session at the conference?
I feel better now. Just please, if you ever invite
me to speak, don't ask me to use PowerPoint.
works from his cabin in the woods in the rolling
hills of southwest Wisconsin, where he variously:
teaches distance learning courses in meeting planning
for Roosevelt University and Meeting Professionals
International, produces maple syrup in the spring,
designs online registration web sites for meetings
and conventions, acts and directs in his own theater
company, programs custom database applications
for meeting planners, and operates a private guest
house where nature takes a vacation. He is
a past International President of Meeting Professionals
International, and the founder of MPI's CMM (Certificate
in Meeting Management) program.