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PowerPoint is not the problem

April 29, 2010

A new article is out, essentially criticizing a tool for the faults of its users – Enemy Lurks in Briefings on Afghan War – PowerPoint (New York Times). While I don’t think PowerPoint is perfect, I am tired of people jumping on this bandwagon. The icons include Angela Garber’s “Death by PowerPoint“, Edward Tufte’s “PowerPoint is Evil“, and Jose Antonio Bowen’s “Teaching Naked“.

The painter is more often the problem than the canvas. Presenters most often cause PowerPoint misuse through laziness, lack of imagination, and inertia. Some of them believe they must keep slides on the screen all the time, as if turning off the projector would break the spell.

PowerPoint is admittedly easy to use poorly, as are Word and Excel – or a computer – or chalk on a slate. Sadly, PowerPoint has become the focus of so much criticism that we hesitate to defend it. Blaming the tool conveniently deflects criticism from those who deserve it, leading authors of lousy presentations to believe they can’t help it.

Consider other media. There are an awful lot of poorly written books, and yet no one talks about “death by books.” After we read a bad book we conclude that particular book was awful — we don’t criticize books as a medium. In contrast, PowerPoint is approaching the status of laughingstock.

No more, please! I propose that we start a new trend. Let’s stop propagating the anonymous, socially convenient refrain, “PowerPoint is terrible.” Instead, let’s say to abusive presenters, “that was a terrible PowerPoint.” Let’s do it nicely, though, and help them learn how to use the tool well. Maybe a little Presentation Bingo will do the trick.

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