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In Defense of PowerPoint

PowerPoint imposed upon wandering business reports and updates a needed and welcome discipline of thought

The NY Times has an article by Elisabeth Buhmiller about the Army’s disenchantment with PowerPoint. It leads people to over-simplify complex problems (although the centerpiece of the article is a graphic that is too complex) and people spend too much time putting together text and graphic decks.

Sure. Fine. We have all sat through presentations at which someone reads through the 15 6-pt bullets on each slide, until by the time he reaches the 19 ways the company can synergize verticalized asymmetries, we’re begging for an aneurysm and don’t care if it’s his or ours. Sure, we’ve all been there. But …

PowerPoint imposed upon wandering business reports and updates a needed and welcome discipline of thought. Powerpoint forced presenters to break what they wanted to say into a set of headlines, and then think about how each headline was supported or elaborated. They could see how many slides they were taking to make their points. Bulleted lists focused the mind.

PowerPoint’s model of thought is better than the ramblings of a self-important business guy who’s grabbed the floor for as long as he feels he’s interesting, but it’s still quite a limited model. Powerpoint encourages us to think in a sequence of brief points, and doesn’t encourage us to express or make visible the relationship among the points. It doesn’t have a built-in way to indicate the clustering of points into a section. You can always create a sub-title slide with a distinctive look, but Powerpoint itself doesn’t encourage us to think that way. For example, it might have a breadcrumbs widget that shows the path we’ve been down as a standard part of slides, but it doesn’t.

What would a presentation system look like that expressed the relationships among the parts? I don’t know, but it probably wouldn’t be a set of discrete rectangles. The mind mapping programs are one approach (although I still haven’t found one that lets me disclose one leaf on a branch at a time, which is often necessary for narrative drama) and Prezi takes another.

Anyway, all I wanted to say is that we ought to remember that PowerPoint made business thought and expression more rigorous and structured.

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More Stories By David Weinberger

David is the author of JOHO the blog (www.hyperorg.com/blogger). He is an independent marketing consultant and a frequent speaker at various conferences. "All I can promise is that I will be honest with you and never write something I don't believe in because someone is paying me as part of a relationship you don't know about. Put differently: All I'll hide are the irrelevancies."