Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Powerpoint considered harmful

Enemy Lurks in War Briefings - PowerPoint - NYTimes.com
We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

Military commanders are concerned that computer-generated charts and bullet point lists stifle discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making, as well as take up too much time.
“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html

Death by Powerpoint blogpost expands on the comments at the end of the times article about the 2006 allegations that Tommy Franks sent battle plans by powerpoint. Would this slide help you plan for combat?

Grousing about the destructive nature of powerpoint on presentation skills is not new. Yet, I hadn't realized how much powerpoint style programs are being used outside of presentation space to replace technical documentation and scientific reports.

Edward Tufts has written two editions of The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. In PowerPoint Does Rocket Science--and Better Techniques for Technical Reports he asks a difficult question, Did powerpoint make the Space Shuttle crash?. The comments on that article are of unusually high quality. I read through them all with a sense of building anticipation. This meme is riffed upon in a washington post article, PowerPoint: Killer app.

What to do?

Find a method of presentation that minimizes impedance mismatch with your audience and your data. Tuft recommends a one duplex 11x17 paper for a 3 hour talk. Find a way to present idea and defend it with data that works for you.

A commenter recommended The A3 Method of report generation (named for A3 sized paper (equivalent to US B sized 11 x 17 )) presentation style adapted from practices as Toyota.
In Tuft's workshops, [he] describes how to replace PowerPoint presentations with 11 x 17 sized reports, and provides many good arguments for why "engineering by PowerPoint" doesn't work very well.
Tuft replies warning that this may just be a BMF: Business Methodology Fad:
In the Beautiful Evidence chapter on corrupt techniques in evidence presentations, the section on over-reaching concludes with this: "When a precise, narrowly focused technical idea becomes metaphor and sprawls globally, its credibility must be earned afresh locally by means of specific evidence demonstrating the relevance and explanatory power of the idea in its new application." (p. 151)

Anytime you pare down your presentation to fewer words and fewer pictures, you have an opportunity to reduce fluff and focus on the primary point of the presentation. Practice examples include turning a 5 minute talk into a 30 second elevator pitch. What do you keep? Once you've pared it down to 30 seconds, expand it back to 5 minutes by including explanatory details. (Expanding it back will be even more difficult than slimming it down).


Mark Twain replied:

If you're going to be trapped using powerpoint, you might as well learn to use it well via a book like Beyond Bullet Points
. Science daily has an article on how to report scientific research to a general audience
Extreme Presentation claims to be extreme. I have a couple more presentation books on my bookshelf, e.g.: Present Like a Pro: The Field Guide to Mastering the Art of Business, Professional, and Public Speaking

[...] factor that constitutes my own violent objection to its prevalent use, that being that increased reliance on PP and other visual aids in education, training, project and crisis management fundamentally undermines the active involvement and cognitive engagement of the target audience/students/team members by converting the desemination of information to a passive presentation.

Kerry Parslow (email), February 9, 2007

It's easy to blame the tool ... but I think .ppt is just a symptom of something else. There are two sides: authentic presentation and authentic listening. We need both.

-- Dennis Allen, September 12, 2006
Don't forget your audience. You may utter as much as you'd like, but it isn't communication until your message is actively listened to by your audience. Until they've listened and you've agreed a plan for action and turned that into work items, it is at best good intentions.
"...it is the recipient who communicates. The so-called communicator, the person who emits the communication, does not communicate. He utters."

— Peter Drucker

Another approach is to free yourself completely from format by following the data. In this TED talk, Hans Rosling shows the best stats you've ever seen you'll find some amazing live visualization of world statistics. Find out more at his site Gapmind.org

Not to be outdone, The Gettysburg Address, power point edition.


Did I mention I write my perl mongers presentations in Vroom::Vroom, a perl + vim tool for presentations. It is very simplistic, I'd actually like to add some structured markup (markdown or similar) to give the slides a bit more clarity. (or do I just want some style and punch?). Presenting code in the my development environment means I'm not placing an unneccessary presentation layer between myself and my audience.
It doesn't just look like vi, it is vi.

"You look like you're presenting in vi or something," remarked a new attendee.
"Yeah, I'm presenting in VIM," I replied.

--Los Angeles Perl Mongers, March 2010 meeting.

I can interact live with the slides, run the code snippets, include external files and more: all with syntax highlighting. The presentations can be exported to the standard vim format or to a minimal web template. When displaying in gvim, you can even change the font!

Example slides in html or raw vroom formats.


Andrew Grangaard said...

Tots: thanks for the links:



And look, a site dedicated to pretty powerpoint decks: http://noteandpoint.com/

Alfred Scott said...

Great article but I think that Power Point it's the best solution for creating informative presentations.
Using the Power Point Templates you can improve your presentation quality.
Thy some Power Point Templates on http://www.poweredtemplate.com