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August 4th, 2005

Dr. Livingston I Presume?

As a teenager living in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I owned a machete. It had a 20-inch blade, a shiny black handle and a leather sheath decorated with beads and tassels. Now Sao Paulo was a city the size of NYC at that time… a place where machetes were seldom used for any constructive purpose. In fact, the only time I really needed my machete was during a month long trip with my dad and two older brothers into the interior of the country.

This past week however, I felt a little like I was hacking through the Brazilian underbrush again as I tried to track down the origin of a common presentation related statistic.

If I were to ask you how many PowerPoint presentations are given every day around the world… what would you say?

If you need help answering this question, you can look here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here… or in countless other electronic repositories of valuable information across our great and wonderful Worldwide Web.

The answer of course is 30 million presentations every single day. Most people apparently know this. But is it true? Where does this number come from? How was it calculated?

The 30 million presentation number is most often quoted as a Microsoft estimate, so this is where I began my search. A friend at Microsoft was kind enough to make an inquiry for me. The answer came from the Microsoft PR department. The 30 million presentation number does not come from Microsoft. Microsoft thought it originated at Presentations Magazine.

It has been a few years since I’ve spoken with Tad Simons, editor of Presentations, so it seemed like a good time to make contact again. “Tad”, I asked in my email, “where did this number come from and how was it calculated?” Tad’s response came back that very afternoon. “To the best of my knowledge it comes from an estimate done by one of our columnists, Geetesh Bajaj, who runs the web site,”

While I have never met Geetesh, like most Presentation Professionals, I am familiar with and appreciate Indezine… so I took another hack with my machete and sent Geetesh a quick note. “Where does this number come from?” I asked. “How was it calculated?”

The reply came bright and early the next morning. “The figure was quoted the first time in this document:” Thanks to Geetesh, I thought I had hacked my way onto another trail in search of a possible Presentation Fact.

Ian Parker, who wrote this article, is a British writer who lives in New York and writes for The New Yorker. His work has been widely acclaimed. A little over 4 years ago, he wrote the above linked New Yorker piece entitled: “Absolute PowerPoint: Can a software package edit our thoughts?” The article appeared on page 76 of the May 28, 2001 issue. In this article he states that “according to Microsoft estimates, at least thirty million PowerPoint presentations are made every day.”

With a tidy slash of my 20-inch machete blade, I stepped through the Brazilian underbrush only to find I had come full circle… right back where I started from!

Does it matter at all how many PPT presentations are given each day? Probably not. Does it matter that people in and around our field have no problem regularly quoting information as fact that cannot be substantiated? I think that matters a lot!

Until we, as Presentation Professionals, start treating our profession more seriously, we surely can’t expect the rest of the world to.

Presentation Fact: Machetes are a vital tool in the search for presentation truth.

Posted by Robert Befus in Presentation Facts


This entry was posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2005 at 11:43 am and is filed under Presentation Facts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

5 Responses to “Dr. Livingston I Presume?”

  1. Richard Bray says:

    Perhaps this is the start of peer review?

    In highly-regarded or recognised scientific journals and publications, we have to publish full details and origins of all facts that we present or analyse, especially when they undergo peer review. Failure to include them results in questions from editors and delays in acceptance, and later comments from others in the field. Printed marketing and promotion materials in many areas must also include such references to substantiate the contents.

    However, many “lesser” journals do not have peer review, accept papers that would be rejected by peer reviewed journals, and are not so well regarded; while mass media and lay publications do not include references or sources, and as such they are not regarded as worthy sources of information by professionals, though they are occasionally quoted and included for a wider view.

    Peer review does lead to academic excellence and high standards, ignores budget and quotas, and also requires vested commercial interests to be stated.

    And Bob, don’t know if this helps, but Dave Paradi in 2003 used the same “statistics” from Microsoft with an additional “number” – Microsoft’s statistics indicate that there are 400 million copies of Microsoft Office installed and there are 30 million PowerPoint presentations done each day.


  2. Robert Befus says:

    Richard, I have seen Paradi’s material. Numbers on the installed PPT base run from 250 million to the 400 million that Paradi uses. I don’t really have much confidence in these numbers either.

    I understand that not all publications will reach the standard of a peer reviewed journal. What I am suggesting is that Presentation Professionals (especially those of us in the ICIA’s Presentation Council) should be leading the way in raising the level of the discussion.

  3. Steve Hards says:

    You’d think that Microsoft would not only want to own this ?statistic’ but, because it is several years old, they’d revise it! The press release would whip up a frenzy of internet and print media activity as people scrambled to update their references to it. Is the Microsoft PR department is missing a trick here?

    Steve Hards

  4. Rick Altman says:

    Yes, Steve, you would think that MS would treat that number with some small amount of reverence. But Microsoft would rather any and all information about its user base be seen as a matter of national security. I asked for some basic info about some of the companies with the largest installation of Office and/or PowerPoint users were, and I was essentially told to crawl through the floor and die.

    You’ll sooner find the holy grail, I suspect, than data from MS on its user base…

  5. Do the research! « PowerPoint Tips Blog says:

    [...] that 30 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day. Here’s a great article, “Dr Livingston I presume?” by Robert Befus, from the Visual Being blog, trying to track down the source of that [...]