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Fight and Flight on the Corporate Battlefield

Is PowerPoint Too Dumb for Words?
PowerPoint, Microsoft’s ubiquitous presentation software, is coming under fire from critics, who say that it discourages thoughtful discourse and dumbs down presentations.
By Art Jahnke

June 18, 2001 — Is PowerPoint too dumb for words? PowerPoint, Microsoft’s ubiquitous presentation software, is coming under fire from critics, who say it:

  • Dumbs down presentations

  • Discourages thoughtful discourse

  • Bores people to tears.

    The anti-PowerPoint movement has grown so vocal that PowerPoint presentations are now forbidden at some business conferences. According to an article in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, the financial consultancy Thomas Weisel Partners recently warned speakers at an upcoming conference to leave their PowerPoint presentations at home.

    The company’s complaint with the software -- that it reduces ideas to data points –- happens to have been articulated at length a few weeks earlier, when The New Yorker published an article by Ian Parker that chronicled the smoldering battle between those who depend mightily on PowerPoint and those who regard it as a brainless fix for fearful presenters.

    Parker makes it clear that while a certain adversarial few cannot stand to see another…

  • Bullet point

  • Chart

  • Graph

    …most corporate managers would be hopelessly lost if they had to stand up in front of a group and explain their thoughts without the aid of PowerPoint. He reports that some managers have found the program, which…

  • Is installed on 250 million computers

  • Is used in 30 million presentations a day

    …to be so convenient that they now apply its bullet point way of arranging ideas to other areas of their lives, such as…

  • Parenting

  • Recreation

  • Housekeeping.

    PowerPoint critics charge that despite its popularity, the software does more harm than good to many presentations. The problem, they say, is that PowerPointed thoughts are no longer thoughts, but mere factoids. And presenters who rely on PowerPoint forgo the valuable exercise of thinking out loud and leading the audience to a conclusion.

    Happily for The New Yorker article, this vaguely existential dispute does not simply pit a bunch of egghead geeks against a bunch of egghead philosophers. Steven Pinker, the author of The Language Instinct and an MIT professor who is highly regarded for original thinking, happens to be a PowerPoint defender.

    Pinker told Parker that PowerPoint makes “the logical structure of an argument more transparent.” Others, such as the unreconstructed Parker, find potent irony in the PowerPoint template titled “Conduct a Creative Thinking Session.” The program instructs users to…

  • Assess the situation

  • Get the facts

  • Generate possible solutions with green light, nonjudgmental thinking

  • Select the best solution.

    Of course, another irony might be found in the genesis of the PowerPoint complaint, which is less likely the fruit of a creative thinking session than is the programming of the software. Ever since programmers started programming, there has been a school of fundamentalist artistes who believe the terms creative and software should never appear in the same sentence.

    But now that software controls everything from children’s toys to the supply chain that manufactures those toys, the fundamentalists are increasingly at odds with the rest of the world, which appears to welcome software as an instrument that can help us express ourselves in ways that are…

  • Faster

  • Easier to understand

  • More memorable.

    Where do you stand? Is PowerPoint a powerful and useful tool? Or is it too dumb for words?

    Reader Comments:
    Misuse of Powerpoint
    Elaine Sadoff
    March 8, 2004

    No, Users are Dumb not the Program
    Bob Abernathy
    December 17, 2003

    PowerPoint my art!!
    Liselotte Antonsdotter
    September 10, 2003

    Power Point as a Tool
    S G Deshmukh
    June 2, 2003

    PowerPoint: It's as smart as you...
    Ken Ziegler
    May 10, 2003

    Powerpoint vs. Flash
    Alexander Ewering
    May 28, 2002

    Communication is key
    Victor Cenci
    March 13, 2002

    Powerpoint abuse
    Jim George
    March 8, 2002

    Power Point
    Greg Bobyn
    January 9, 2002

    Is Powerpoint a powerful and a useful tool?
    Patrick Smith Njagi
    January 3, 2002

     See More Comments
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