Biting the Bullet

Did you know that, according to Newsweek, the Pentagon is urging its staffers to knock it off on the PowerPoint? Hmmm. PowerPoint as a threat to our military posture? No, I wouldn't go that far. But PowerPoint has certainly changed the face of presentations at our company. I've enjoyed hearing people tell me that they're going to "send me a presentation." No, you're not -- you're going to send me a file. You make a presentation, you send a file.

Here's the essence of what makes everyone tired of PowerPoint: a graphics file is not the same as a presentation. Full communication is not achieved by sending me a collection of bullets. So, stop it. Stop it right now. It's just upsetting everyone.

A presentation is a public speaking event, not the visual aids that accompany it. It's the speaker and his smiling face in from of you. It's an event dreaded by most people more than spiders or an IRS audit. It takes courage. It's the hammy joke on the wry observation. It's you with your ideas in front of me with my brain. It's my chance to ask the public question and your chance to answer me -- or not. Here's an identification tip: people generally stand up when they give a presentation. Sitting down, crawling through PowerPoint pages as we listen to you read the bullets to us doesn't really compare to the raw exposure of a presentation.

Hey, here's a sensitivity tip: I can read, buddy.

You know, you probably don't really need a hand-out. You can just say things. I will hear you and I will remember. If I don't remember, then you probably didn't make me care enough about it to remember. Maybe you should spend your time figuring out how to make me care about your ideas, rather than grooming your speaking outline for show-and tell. I don't think animation brings anything extra to the moment, aside from the fleeting thought, "Doesn't this guy have anything else to do with his time?"

It's the bullet points that have a kind of weird immortality. What is it with these PowerPoint files? It's like some electronic form of gum on your shoe.

Don't they teach verbs at school anymore? I don't know what you mean by "project schedule and business objectives" -- I need a verb! Develop? Align? Test? Discontinue? Object to? Execute? Laugh about maniacally? Get out the last PowerPoint someone sent you and open it up. Do you see any verbs? Wouldn't verbs help a lot?

Okay, okay, enough ranting. Here's a suggestion. After you make your presentation and listen to the feedback, make time to go back to your desk and create a new document. You can even use PowerPoint. Create a new document that would make sense to a reader who wasn't at the presentation. Add the verbs in, add some explanations in smaller type, or use the speaker notes (find them and use them) to flesh out your ideas, remove the animations that look horrible when printed.

Then you can send me the file and I won't complain.


  1. I'm sure you've already seen this -http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint - ET seems a good philosophical fit. Cheers!

  2. This is a wonderful document -- I urge everyone who suffers under the yoke (or yolk) of PPT to read these words and be enlightened.


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