Last month, a Swiss group calling themselves the Anti-PowerPoint Party launched their efforts—complete with a bright red octagonal STOP sign logo—and took their place in a long line of detractors that stretches back to 2003. The formal start of the criticism was the publication in Wired magazine of an article called “PowerPoint Is Evil: Power Corrupts, PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely” written by Edward R. Tufte, the noted graphics guru and professor emeritus of graphic design at Yale University.
Readers of this site will recall that I’ve often challenged Mr. Tufte’s opinions, most recently here, but the beating of PowerPoint goes on. My argument, simply and repeatedly stated, is to blame the penmanship, not the pen. A bad presentation is the fault of the user, not the tool.
To be fair, the Anti-PowerPoint Party does not fully advocate what its name implies. In fact, its goal, as stated on their home page is much more aligned with my argument:
We do not want to abolish PowerPoint*; we only want to abolish the PowerPoint*-CONSTRAINT.
We want that the number of boring PowerPoint* presentations on the planet to decrease and the average presentation to become more exciting and more interesting.
Nevertheless, the hue and cry of the Anti-PowerPoint Party was echoed by Lucy Kellaway, who writes the respected “Business Life” column for Financial Times. In her July 17th article on the launch, Ms. Kellaway advocated that “the APPP needs a terrorist faction, which would advocate cutting the wire in the middle of the table that connects the laptop to the projector…Better still would be to campaign for an outright ban.”
Even better still would be to campaign for a correction of user errors by banning the use of PowerPoint for anything but presentations (not send-aheads or leave-behinds) and to subordinate and restrict its use during presentations to support and/or illustrate the presenter’s narrative.
Joining this approach was a letter to the editors of Financial Times on July 22nd in response to Ms. Kellaway’s article. The letter was sent by Michael Baldwin, a presentation coach in New York who wrote:
In print cartoons, there is a dynamic relationship between the image and the caption that makes them—the good ones—both inseparable and unforgettable. With proper training, presenters can employ this same dynamic to produce memorable and convincing presentations.
Heed Mr. Baldwin’s metaphorical advice or your presentation will become a literal cartoon.
Jerry Weissman is among the world's foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who's who of the world's best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intel, Intuit, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Netflix and many others.
Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco Systems IPO road show. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco's Board of Directors, attributed "at least two to three dollars" of the offering price to Jerry's coaching. That endorsement led to more than 500 other IPO road show presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market. Jerry also blogs at Harvard Business Review and Forbes.com
What is ludicrous about the AntiPowerPoint Party is their proposed solution:
They want us to go back to just using flipcharts, not forward to using better tools like interactive whiteboards.
Can you imagine training a radiologist to read MRI scans using flipcharts?
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