it's not going to win me any popularity points, but I thought I'd take
a look at the fairly standard Powerpoint bashing that takes place. This
article features John Sweller,
saying that Powerpoint is counter productive because, according to his
cognitive load theory, it is more difficult to process information that
is coming audibly and visually simultaneously. Garr Reynolds (via Downes) picks up on this, and makes the distinction between Powerpoint as method and as a tool, arguing:
PowerPoint is used should be ditched, not the tool itself. Suggesting
we abandon PowerPoint because it's often (usually?) misused and abused
to produce awful presentation visuals is like saying we should dump the
idea of 24-hour cable news because so much of it is vacuous rubbish."
know it is common to complain of death by powerpoint, and I have sat
through enough dull, bullet-listed, tiny fonted, montonously delivered
presentations to make watching the entire DVD box set of Sex and the
City seem like an interesting alternative. But, I want to know what
these complaints are measuring against? Did I miss some public-speaking
Camelot, when every lecture was given with such insight, focus and wit
as to make it seem like an evening with Peter Ustinov? As I recall my
(pre-Powerpoint) university lectures they were largely dull, mostly
incoherent and almost deliberately lacking in humour.
complaints about Powerpoint often come from people who are good public
speakers. This is just not the case for most of us. Sure, we can make
improvements (I'll return to this), but in the same way many people are
not gifted comedians, or actors, most people are not talented orators.
I am to public speaking what George W Bush is to free form jazz – it's
just not my thing.
But, Powerpoint saves me here – by using
Powerpoint (and I'm using Powerpoint as a shorthand for all
presentation software, I accept that Keynote is a nicer tool), I can
structure, practice and improve my presentation skills. Yes, it's a
crutch, but if you need help walking, crutches are good. Powerpoint provides a framework for developing presentation skills.
Over the past couple of years I have abandoned bulleted lists, moved to
use of images with one message per slide and greater use of (YouTube)
videos. My presentations have improved (I think) as a result. I did
this by thinking through not only how I could give better presentations
in a general sense, but specifically, how I could improve my Powerpoint
In this sense, Powerpoint is a valuable tool. Like any
technology that democratises a skill, it means that most of what you
get is poor, but it also allows a mechanism to explore and develop.
After all, we don't complain that most of what gets written in blogs is
rubbish, we accept that is the price we pay for mass democratisation.
The difference with Powerpoint is that it is delivered to a captive
audience, they can't look elsewhere.