Cringley on PowerPoint

In Cringley’ s latest article, he takes on the way business uses PowerPoint presentations. It’s about time someone spoke up about this practice of using slides in lieu of real information.

Read The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint by Edward Tufte for a sobering analysis of how the truth typically gets mangled on its way through your PC. It isn’t the fault of PowerPoint, of course, but in the way we use it. Our first error is sending those darned stacks, since the intent of PowerPoint is to be an important component of a live presentation. PowerPoint is supposed to play the role of the nerdy kid from the A/V department who keeps all your slides straight and makes you look good. But more often than not, I get the stack without the presenter, and no matter how smart or informed I am, any solo effort to expand that stack into an adequate proxy for a 10,000-word document is simply bound to come up short.

I’ve often come under fire for my PowerPoint presentations: I typically have 1 slide for every 20 minutes of talk time. Compare that with the more typical 1 slide for every 2 minutes and you begin to understand the difference. You’ve probably all sat through a PowerPointed presentation in which someone basically read to you directly from the slides. Believe it or not, when this happens to me, I get up, excuse myself, ask to have the slides emailed to me, and leave. Of course, this can be a bit awkward if I’m the only attendee.

My approach is to prepare a presentation first. That means all the words before the pictures. Once I have the meat of the presentation together, I can highlight a couple key issues with slides. Because I’m a software development guy, these slides frequently are screen captures of an application: words just wouldn’t do them justice. I’m not quite up to Cringley’s level. I can’t do the entire presentation without slides; but simply because there’s some material that can’t be verbally explained.

Almost no one asks me for my slides after a presentation. There’s simply no point.