Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blame the Bullets, not PowerPoint

Blog readers probably know I am not a big fan of PowerPoint presentations. I sympathize with many points in the recent article We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint, which resurrects the December 2009 story by Richard Engel titled So what is the actual surge strategy? I think it is important to focus, however, on the core problem with PowerPoint presentations: bullets.

Bullets are related to the main PowerPoint problem, which is having the medium drive the message rather than having the message drive the medium. When you create a PowerPoint presentation that relies on bullets to deliver a message, you essentially cripple the intellect of anyone attending the presentation.

I thought about this yesterday while listening to Johnny Cash. Let's imagine Johnny wanted to explain the devotion someone feels for his significant other. If his default thinking involved creating a PowerPoint presentation every time he wanted to communicate, the bullets might look something like this:

Title: Reasons I Walk the Line

  • Key points about me:

    • My heart: keep a close watch

    • My eyes: keep open

    • My "ends:" "keep out for ties that bind"

    • Easy for me to me true

    • I'm a fool

  • Proof I'm true:

    • End each day alone

    • You're on my mind

      • Day

      • Night

    • Happiness

    • I'd turn the tide for you

    • I walk the line

  • Reasons you keep me true:

    • You're a got "a way"

    • You "give me cause"

    • You're mine

Or, instead of delivering this disaster (which probably takes 5 minutes), Johnny sings "I Walk the Line" in 2 minutes 44 seconds. Which approach is more effective, efficient, powerful? This doesn't mean we should all start singing when we need to deliver a message. Rather, determine the message first, and then select a medium. Don't lead with PowerPoint.


Matt Olney said...

Hey Richard, don't forget PPT isn't the devil, lazyness is. You don't HAVE to use bullets. I love the book Presentation Zen. (Marketing hates it because for the most part I just don't use their slide templates anymore)

Anonymous said...

Global Nerdy has a great post on this.

"[the problem is] that they’re misusing PowerPoint in the same way that drunks misuse lampposts: as a crutch, rather than as a source of illumination. "

Kevin Rowney said...

More hilarious powerpoint mockery:

John said...

People have become so institutionalized to the Office suite, you can't stray from the status quo. I tried to give a presentation on enterprise forensics to a group of federal executives, but was told I must put it in the agency's PPT template and present following the PPT template. It was horrendous and felt like I was giving a eulogy.

vmcto said...

As someone that "will gladly sing along to Johnny Cash songs anytime" and gives frequent presentations, I really appreciate this post.

Thanks for the thought provoking two minutes.

Peter Joseph said...

Cash and computers, never would have thought the two could mix... Great post, clear as crystal.

gih said...

The time comes that there would be more great inventions will be created.

macaroni said...

Richard, very good reminders for us. I read a great brief by Edward Tufts who outlines some very good points in using power point to communicate technical topics.