Why Use PowerPoint at All? A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words: Guest Post by Jerry Weissman

Created: Monday, May 23, 2011, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 4:00 am



Jerry WeissmanConsidering the universal condemnation by critics, audiences, and even by presenters themselves, why would anyone use PowerPoint? The software—and its usage—have developed a negative reputation, ranging from the common epithet, “Death by PowerPoint,” to the pointed opinions of Edward Tufte, the well-known graphics guru and author of The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint in which he contends that “PowerPoint routinely disrupts and trivializes content.”

After all, the most memorable speeches of history did not use PowerPoint.

  • Cicero’s orations in the Roman Forum
  • Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
  • Winston Churchill’s World War II rally to arms
  • Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights speech
  • John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
  • Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down the Berlin Wall” speech
  • Barack Obama’s Cinderella speech

So why, indeed, would anyone use PowerPoint? The simple answer lies in the aphorism, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Those familiar words are backed by a wide array of scientific evidence. One of the most thorough is an HP publication titled, “The Power of Visual Communication,”—which cites nine learned sources, among them Mr. Tufte—and concludes that:

Recent research supports the idea that visual communication can be more powerful than verbal communication, suggesting in many instances that people learn and retain information that is presented to them visually much better than that which is only provided verbally.

Even more to the (Power) point is the opinion of Stephen M. Kosslyn, the author of the popular book, Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling PowerPoint Presentations, based on his work at the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. As Dr. Kosslyn put it in one of his academic studies:

The timeworn claim that a picture is worth a thousand words is generally well-supported by empirical evidence, suggesting that diagrams and other information graphics can enhance human cognitive capacities in a wide range of contexts and applications.

The newest guru of visual expression is Hans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor and statistician, whose revolutionary methodology electrified the high profile TED conference and made him an instant media and talk circuit rock star. Ten thousand words would not be adequate to describe his technique, so see for yourself in this YouTube video. A New York Times article about Dr. Rosling described the impact of his graphics:

The goal of information visualization is not simply to represent millions of bits of data as illustrations. It is to prompt visceral comprehension, moments of insight that make viewers want to learn more.

This is not to say that you should attempt to scale Dr. Rosling’s heights. In fact, he developed his own specialized Trendalyzer software (that you can download from his site for free), but to be inspired by his simple yet animated approach to depicting statistics. Be inspired even more by his “Five Hints for a Successful Bubble Presentation” that he offers with the download. Especially his second hint:

Explain what is shown on the vertical and horizontal axis by color and size of bubble before you start moving the bubble.

In that one sentence, even Dr. Rosling, his dynamic software notwithstanding, validates the primacy of the presenter over even his graphics.

Now you know not only why, but how to use PowerPoint.

Presentatons in ActionSpecial Offer: Order Jerry Weissman’s new book, Presentations in Action, between May 20 and June 10 to receive a free copy of the In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions DVD and 40% off another Weissman publication from FT Press.

About Jerry Weissman:

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.

See Also: Presentations in Action — The Jerry Weissman InterviewCategories: guest_post, powerpoint

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