Monday, June 01, 2009

Death by PowerPoint

This presentation about BAD PowerPoint is very interesting! I enjoyed this. What I got out of it is that presentations are actually not intended to involve thinking, they are intended to entertain, amuse, and be memorable. They are meant to inspire action but prevent people from thinking too much before acting. Basically, a presentation is intended to be a form of propaganda! (Well, marketing to be more gentle).

I think this is pretty much in line with how Ed Tufte the "data artist" conceptuallizes the use of PowerPoint as well, except that he casts this form of presentation in a negative rather than positive light because his goal is to facilitate clear thinking about complex data rather than entertaining people and getting them to act. See his excerpt "PowerPoint Does Rocket Science." I tend to agree with him, but I can also see the value of entertaining people to get concepts across.

The entertainment presentation view is reasonable, and supportable I think, but it makes a presentation a very speciallized form of communication that is different from the decision making or problem solving process that most people probably assume is going on in meetings, or would optimally like to happen in meetings.

Entertaining people is great, and useful, but it isn't neccessarily why a meeting is being called, and doesn't neccessarily do what needs to be done as far as getting people thinking about the right things.

Some of the "worst" slides demonstrated are actually reasonably good engineering diagrams for speciallized purposes for the same reason they are such bad demo slides, because there is so much information in front of your eyes at once. Having a complex system at a glance is often invaluable for making engineering decisions and locating problems. It is just wildly inappropriate for flashing up on the screen during a presentation where you simply want to make a point (unless the point is: just look at how complex this system is, we dare you to try to remember anything about it!). That's what makes some of the examples so ironic, they were *intended* to be "propaganda" slides to sell products and popularize ideas and instead they are deliberately emulating complex engineering diagrams. Mixed purposes to say the least.

You can't neccessarily avoid the tradeoff between being a good marketer (most useful for teaching new concepts or motivating action) and being a good presenter of dense but well structured technical information (most useful for facilitating problem solving and for facilitate complex decisions).

Very nice work, thanks to Alexei for sharing this!

Also see the related page, "8 PowerPoint Train Wrecks"