That workhorse of the presentation stand, Microsoft PowerPoint, has come in for some criticism recently, with a new book How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid from author Franck Frommer arguing its wide use helps dumb down documents. Here, two Monocle minds debate the pros and cons of getting with the program.
Much to my immediate regret, I recently decided to admit in a meeting at work, that as a young child I used to make PowerPoint presentations on my dad’s laptop. For fun. At the weekend. Generally, on my own.
Perhaps some of that time may have been better spent interacting with other children or playing outside. But it does put me in a strangely suitable position to defend my old faithful friend in its time of need. For while the world rallies against Microsoft’s PowerPoint and a backlash ensues over the dumbing down of its encroachment on the oral tradition, I’d like to take this moment to remind people of the decades of scientific research which has gone into proving the advantages of using visual aids.
People absorb, digest and recall information in a variety of ways, responding to a plethora of different stimuli. Are children’s classrooms around the world not decorated with educational posters and pictures drawn by students?
Don’t get me wrong – I work in radio, I value the power of the singular human voice and how absorbing it can be. But that doesn’t mean I have to hate film or television for attempting to engage me in a different way. And while good speeches are entertaining, inspiring and interesting, we all know that bad speeches can be incredibly dull.
For some people, presenting information to others is just part of their job, not something they necessarily aspire to do. To expect each of these to be a gifted speechwriter with no need for visual stimuli whatsoever is slightly naïve. Not to mention unfair on those poor souls who have to listen to them.
And while I know my own intimacy with PowerPoint is bordering on worrying, don’t we all smile just a little bit when those bullet points fly in at a jaunty angle?
Katie Bilboa is a producer for Monocle 24
I spent a recent evening at a talk here in London from some very accomplished architects. On-mic and at podium, PowerPoint was the presentation tool of choice for all three. And, I have to say, some of the visual aids were much welcome.
Sometimes a good photo or graphic really does help you look at things a different way. But, on the other hand, looking at pictures of brownfield sites compared to just talking about them aren’t terribly different exercises.
The architects speaking were engaging and I walked away with a lot of ideas for the show I produce here on Monocle 24, The Urbanist, (it premieres on Thursdays). And although what was said was top-notch, there were some critical flaws.
Aside from the occasional warbling of mic-feedback, nothing can scar a presentation more than having to interrupt a train of thought with, “Oh, sorry, next slide please. No, no, back one? Another one?” Or, worse still, when all goes horribly wrong and a tech breakdown results in the very disorientating need for the speaker to drop the PowerPoint altogether and attempt to have his or her prepared words stand on their own, sans slides.
Their eyes fill with apologetic horror, their speech is punctuated by references to missing statistics and bullet points. What any of those speeches were about, I’ll never remember. I was too busy cringing.
The territory of PowerPoint is treacherous. Yes, it can be cringe-worthy. Or, it can be catatonic: lights off, the hum of a projector, and the blank stare of a square of light is something between lullaby and hypnosis. Either way, it’s not the desired effect.
Looking back at the most inspiring, memorable speeches I’ve witnessed – or even those I didn’t – none have ever included a computer program. What takes it to the next level? Intonation, gesture, articulate use of language.
So: spare yourself the hours of fiddling about, choosing fonts and fades and just concentrate on what’s coming out of your mouth.