I will demonstrate my age here. Back “in the day” we used to use overhead projectors to make presentations at work. We printed on transparent sheets and if we wanted to make a point, we would mark on them with markers. It was not a golden era, but it worked. Barely. The overheads often had burned out bulbs and finding markers back in the era before the extensive use of whiteboards was always a challenge.
Back when I was at Ford, we introduced Harvard Graphics to do presentations. It worked, but most truck engineers really didn’t want anything to do with it. We didn’t have a good way to project slide shows, and the graphics capabilities in those pre-Windows days, well, they sucked. One engineering manager told me, “I print out the three graphs I need and talk to the other managers about what we’re going to do about the data trends.” Wow. Back in those days kids, we actually got stuff done.
Then came PowerPoint and projectors in every conference room. And with it came the dumbing down of the workforce. That’s right. PowerPoint has crippled many people’s abilities to communicate well.
Oh, I get it, PowerPoint is a tool and a tool can be used for both good and evil. PowerPoint, in my humble opinion, has led to a downfall of intelligent presentation skills and even analytics. It panders to the lowest level of communications skills. Why do people love Twitter so much? I’ll tell you, it’s like writing bullet points in PowerPoint – a competency that they demonstrate every day in the cube farm.
Complex concepts are whittled down to incoherent bullet points or pretty pictures which fail to convey a complete thought. Sometimes complex things are complex for a reason. Or worse, someone uses PowerPoint to write War and Peace because upper management will look at a PowerPoint deck before reading a twenty-page proposal. What I cringe at the most is that PowerPoint reinforces poor writing (much like my blog). People write bullet points that are fractured and disappointingly shattered pieces of sentences and it is accepted as the norm. I grant you the business schools are struggling to teach students how to write professionally, but why bother? When they get a job they are going to simply pile together a bunch of Tweet-like-sentences in PowerPoint anyway.
We used to engage people in meeting with meaningful discussions. Now we read to them from poorly worded lists on a screen. Rather than using PowerPoint to augment or enhance a discussion, it becomes not only the focal point of the discussion – it also becomes the document of record. PowerPoint is used as a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a horrid teleprompter.
I like to think I use the tool well – especially when it first came into prominent use. But just when I started to enjoy it, every company/firm I worked for began to implement standards for PowerPoint. I got hamstrung by palette of colors that hinder any real creativity. There are templates I’m required to use which, over the years, eat into any bit of creativity in the name of corporate conformity.
I work in this bitch-of-a-tool every day of my career and have come to loathe it. PowerPoint caters to the inner-idiot we all try and conceal from our coworkers. I have watched people make decisions based on a pretty picture or graph rather than the risks and facts tied to a concept. At times it seems like a contest as to who can provide the slickest graphics. I saw a chart once that had five dimensions to it – not only was it unreadable but if you looked at the center of it long enough you could disrupt the space time continuum.
PowerPoint has forced me to be a graphic artist just to keep up with the Jones’s. Decades ago in my career I ran a desktop publishing team. It is not a step forward for me to have to rekindle those antiquated skills. Large organizations have entire graphics teams to help you take your horrid little image and process it for PowerPoint for your special presentation. Can you believe that – a hidden army of PowerPoint graphic artists.
There are even people out there that have implicated the use of PowerPoint in the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia. That’s right, the use of PowerPoint can kill people. Don’t believe me, check this out. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/29/AR2005082901444.html
Have you ever been in a meeting where someone shows up for a thirty minute meeting with 67 slides? Ticks you off, doesn’t it? Or the douche-bag that thought it would be cute to put up a six point font on his/her slide, as if any human can read a font that small? You know who I’m talking about. How about the guy that discovered the transitions feature and turned ever slide into a hideously animated mess.
My biggest pet peeve is one I mentioned earlier – the moron that reads his or her slide deck to me. I went to college, I write books, I can read for myself. You even sent me the side deck in advance – I read it – let’s move on! Tell me what’s not on the slides, tell me what the key points are in your argument. Convince me – sell me, compel me! Use PowerPoint to augment your skills in presenting for God’s sake! Reading me what you have on slides is just insulting and demeaning for both of us.
What I do from time-to-time is not prepare a PowerPoint deck for a meeting. I admit, I do this just to be a jerk – it’s an endearing trait (so I tell myself.) It throws people off completely. I’ve actually had people stop me and ask if I have the information in a slide deck I can send them. “No, it isn’t necessary.” They almost glare at you like, “it’s not a real meeting unless we have pretty pictures for me to look at.” Thanks PowerPoint – you’ve managed to mutate corporate communications into something that is less than functional – and you’ve indoctrinated a whole generation of managers into thinking they have to have a slide deck in front of them or they can’t think.
In my book Business Rules – the Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords, (which you should just buy right now – duh) I rip into PowerPoint with the rules you need to know. Suffice it to say, however, I don’t have this blog post in a PPT deck – yet.