PowerPoint Insecurities

Created: Wednesday, April 28, 2010, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 7:25 am

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I read an article in a large, mainstream publication about how PowerPoint may be the enemy, and of course, they had to show this famous slide about the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan in the article.

Afghanistan Stability PowerPoint Slide

The first thing that crossed my mind was how most people don’t like to discuss their insecurities. As human beings, we like to believe we are perfect and always look out for excuses that may cover our mistakes. To cover our mistakes, we highlight the mistakes of others! And of course, this is neither the context nor the blame attributed in any way to the aforementioned article. I mentioned that article only because it spawned a certain thought.

In fact, such a thought makes me think about my own insecurities, and how insecure I can feel about a piece of paper? Let me explain more.

If ‘insecurity about paper’ were a question, my answer would be that I have no uncertainty about any paper that I write on. In fact, I started this whole article yesterday night, after my computer was shut down and I had no tablet or electronic gadgetry around. Humor me and ignore the smartphone! Since I did have a regular, paper notepad next to me, I used that one and discovered that my mind was working faster than my writing hands. I know my handwriting is not too legible at that speed, but at least I can comprehend and understand later whatever I have written! Yes, my poor handwriting skills could make me feel insecure.

That sets me thinking about something: would I write differently if someone else had to read my writing? Yes, I would try and use my best handwriting. OK, what is the purpose of this article and what does it have to do with PowerPoint? Now is the time to promise that yes, there is an analogy waiting in the not-so-distant paragraph somewhere on this page. For now, please continue reading.

Let’s make a small ‘thought-detour’ now. I want to create a small sign that must be readable from a distance; maybe, this is for a garage sale. So I use a similar sheet of paper with a different approach: all large, block letters, a thicker pen, few words in a larger text size, and maybe a picture doodle as well. This all boils down to common sense because I want the sign to be clearly visible from a distance.

I know that the paper, the thicker pen, the regular pen, or even the picture are all tools at my disposal and they don’t make any decisions for me. I enjoy the fact that I can choose whatever approach works best for me. This freedom to choose, differentiate and design is amazing and liberating at the same time.

Freedom from Insecurities 40218

Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who don’t enjoy that sort of freedom. They may write twenty lines of teeny-weeny text or create detailed line drawings on the same sheet of paper. And then they will expect people seated twenty feet afar to clearly read that content. Nothing can help them or their hapless audiences–not even the world’s best optometrist!

These folks may not even take the blame for designing such atrocities; they prefer to blame the sheet of paper instead. So such troubled audiences gave birth to familiar terms: ‘Death by Paper’ and ‘Paper makes you dumb.’ And that’s so ironic. Why? Because how would we all have gone to schools, colleges, and universities if there was no paper? Even today, in an electronic world, you still need paper in some way or the other.

Thanks for reading so far, and accompanying me on the thought-detour. Now let me bring up the analogy. I think of a fresh, new, blank, empty PowerPoint slide as a piece of paper. I know that it is often viewed from afar and I need to use less content on a slide. In fact, during my PowerPoint training sessions, I often tell my students to compare their slides to a business card. If you can fit an amount of content on a business card, then you can fit that same content on a slide. Anything more is not using PowerPoint as a slide design tool, but rather using it as a document creation program. And if you don’t pay heed to this advice, you or someone from your audience may talk about insecure concepts such ‘Death by PowerPoint’ and ‘PowerPoint makes you dumb.’

PowerPoint is not Word. Remember that garage sale sign I spoke about earlier in this article: that was PowerPoint. And this article: that is Word! The moral of this analogy: use the right tool for the job. If you use the wrong tool, it’s not the fault of the tool. It’s your fault, and the sooner you realize that folly, the better it will be for you–financially, intellectually, and motivationally too. And it will make a lot of people less insecure! And they won’t have any excuses to put all their blames on your slides, especially if your slides look anything like the slide you saw at the beginning of this article!

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