Monday, August 30, 2010

PowerPoint Use and Misuse

One of the more humorous things I have read lately was from a message board dedicated to, of all things, distance running (my older sons are talented distance runners, so I live vicariously through them). The actual thread had nothing to do with running; instead, it was about a man who had broken up with his girlfriend using PowerPoint to do so. This is not the best use of the technology.

So keeping in mind modern readings on the use of slide technology, I went to visit the Presentation Zen website. I’ve spoken of this in the past; this is a site maintained by Garr Reynolds and dedicated to helping the reader develop successful presentations. His focus is on the harmony of presentation- which is why he has entitled his blog Presentation Zen- and he uses modern understanding of design, harmony and even psychology to craft meaningful presentations.

As a result, he stresses the need to move away from text-based and text-heavy slides. His point is made quite well in his August 21 entry on his blog, at In this entry, he shows how General Dodonna, in Star War IV (“A New Hope”), uses a full wide-screen display to show his fighters the schematics of the Death Star- a picture here being worth many thousands of words. He then duplicates the scene but this time shows the presentation as a text slide in typical PowerPoint format. Of course, there is this caveat: “You can't see this well on this Micro Galactic ProjectionPoint, but an analysis of the plans provided by Princess Leia has demonstrated a weakness in the battle station. Follow this link at the bottom of the screen for more info if needed." There is a difference here in how we understand the information.

He closes his entry by suggesting we push back against the Imperial template propaganda and its conventional usage patterns. He recommends that when you use PowerPoint, it is far better to use visuals rather than to use lines of text which remind you what to say. See, the real issue here is what your audience learns; this technology is not a simple convenience for you to help you lecture, but is instead a powerful tool to help others learn. When it used correctly. Your visual information will help amplify the words you speak to your audience; use the Force wisely here when you do so. Otherwise, problems in learning occur will they (says Yoda, wise in all things).

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