Should PowerPoint be banned?

My favorite podcaster Lucy Kellaway went into an open attack on PowerPoint (for those who wonder, Power Point is Windows presentation software also used by Mac users who have not discovered Apple Keynote). Not only did Lucy join the Anti-Power Point Party (APPP) , but she also proposed to create a terrorist wing that would cut the cables connecting laptops to the projectors.

Another FT journalist, Tim Harford defended PowerPoint. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to Lucy and I admire how masterfully Tim does it.

He acknowledges the risk of Death by PowerPoint but says that life before PowerPoint was no Eden either. Facing boring slides is no worse than facing a speaker having cognitive meltdown. Responding to the criticism of “[Power Point's] relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another”  Tim rightly remarks that :

[this] is really assaulting the idea of public speaking itself. What could be more relentlessly sequential than a speech? One damn word in front of another. If you hate the very idea of a speech, fine. But say so.

The real value of Tim’s article is in great advice he gives to aspiring presenters. It’s fine to use PP to keep your speaking notes (although I personally much prefer OmniOutliner). Just don’t project them on the screen. Project something different (e.g. great images or inspiring quotes). And use the “B” button to make the screen black from time to time. Let the listeners focus on you and your ideas, not on your notes. This is not very far from the principles of Presentation Zen, a must website for everyone who aspires to be a good presenter. Connection to Mac? Guess what? Gart who is behind Presentation Zen is also one of the creators of Apple Keynote!

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About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He also coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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9 Responses to Should PowerPoint be banned?

  1. Pingback: It’s not Macs vs. PCs. It’s people vs. powerpoints | Academic workflows on Mac

  2. Pingback: Academic presentations: ideas, workflows, and a Mac | Academic workflows on Mac

  3. Aleh Cherp says:

    Reblogged this on Academic workflows on Mac and commented:

    I have recently spoken about inappropriate uses of Microsoft Word to my students. The slightly scared students started to fear that I downgrade everyone who dares to use any Microsoft products, for example PowerPoint. I don’t. But here are a few relevant thoughts for new readers of Macademic.

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  4. Csaba Pusztai says:

    I guess the problem with Microsoft Word and Powerpoint (and for that matter any of their competitors) is that they promise either explicitly or implicitly that you will be capable of doing something (you may not have been able to do before). If it is a word processor it gives you the illusion that you can produce nice documents for print or websharing, if it is a presentation app, it gives you the promise that you will be able to produce nice and effective presentations. The only reason the names Word and Powerpoint are mentioned more often in a derogative sense is that they have hegemonized the app world for a long time. Competitors may be different in some respects, but from the point of view of my argument, they are pretty much all the same. Back to what I was saying, they give people the false illusion that they will be capable of doing something when these apps are neither sufficient nor necessary conditions of producing something nice and effective. Still, people would very often put in their CVs that they are proficient with the Microsoft Office Suite. What is the value of that? I mean we live in the 21st century of elaborated GUIs. Being able to control a piece of software (remember what functions an app offers and how they can be triggered) should not take more than just a couple of hours or days of figuring out. Why don’t they rather say without mentioning brands of software (in their CVs) that they are capable of creating nicely typset reports or effective visuals to accompany a talk etc? Now, those would be the underlying skills I think would make a difference.

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  5. Aleh Cherp says:

    Totally agree. I also value a talent of curiosity and exploring new ways of doing things, which is often manifested in how people relate to software.

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  6. Exploring new ways of doing things is always a way to be choosen from most people. Not all of them have chance to win. People relate to software as described at this article.

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  7. Dellu says:

    I think it is unfair to condemn the elegant products for the weaknesses of the users. All the great tools could be misused; MS products are not the exception.

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  8. I settled with Powerpoint, just because a lot of people use it and that makes it much easier to collaborate on a document. Try that with Google Drive Presentations or Keynote and it gets very lonely.

    I have used Keynote as well, but had a lot of crashes when moving between OSX and iOS.

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