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Education

PowerPoint Bad For Learning 439

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the but-how-else-will-executives-waste-time dept.
cute-boy writes "This article in the Sydney Morning Herald reporting on research done at The University of NSW suggests the use of Microsoft PowerPoint (and similar products) in lectures and meetings actually makes it harder to absorb facts, rather than being a reinforcement of key points."
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PowerPoint Bad For Learning

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  • by toleraen (831634) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:02AM (#18605361)
    Is it PowerPoint's fault, or the fault of the Powerpoint creator? I always hate it when someone dumps all the information onto the slide, because it does make it hard to follow along. Whenever I do a presentation, the bullets on my slides are extremely brief, usually no more than 4-5 words. I want people to look at the bullet, see I'm going to be talking about Topic X, and then listen to what I have to say. This allows people to take notes as necessary and it allows them to pay attention to what I'm saying.

    I thought it was common knowledge that creating a presentation with brief bullets was the "proper" way to do it. There's no point in even doing a presentation if you're just going to read off the slides, you may as well email it out and not waste people's time.
    • by UbuntuDupe (970646) * on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:04AM (#18605409) Journal
      Well, it's tricky, and I've never found an easy way to do it. Put all the information, and there's clutter. Put too little, and there's nothing to keep the eye occupied while you ramble.
      • by God'sDuck (837829) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:08AM (#18605507)
        That's why Tufte and his information-architecture crew always recommend putting important information *on a handout* -- by which they mean a real hand-out with copies of the data, not a "teaser" summary or (worse) tiny screenshots of the slides.
        • by zentinal (602572) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:55AM (#18606537) Homepage
          Speaking of Edward Tufte, check out 'The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint: Pitching out Corrupts Within' [bestwebbuys.com] for an excellent critique on the misuse of PowerPoint and a primer on the best way to use this tool.
          • by Sven Tuerpe (265795) <sven@gaosPASCAL.org minus language> on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @12:34PM (#18607221) Homepage

            There is a dissenting opinion [jnd.org] by Don Norman, by the way.

            • by 644bd346996 (1012333) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:03PM (#18608787)
              A dissenting opinion that seems to miss the point in several ways.

              For example:

              The slides are written for the benefit of the speaker.
              The above statement is absurd. Slides are for the audience to look at. Nothing should be on the slide that won't be helpful to the audience. The speaker's notes should either be in his hand or on the podium. Norman almost seems to understand this. He ends that paragraph with this:

              The question is, if the slides are for the speaker, why does the audience have to be subjected to them?
              Unfortunately, he doesn't ever get around to answering the question.

              One of Tufte's most important points is that most people tend to dumb down the data to fit the presentation, rather than adapt the presentation so that it can effectively convey all the information. Norman's response amounts to saying "No, you don't understand!" Instead, Norman should back up his assertion that presentations should go light on meaningful data.

              Listeners cannot absorb too much information at once. Talks should be limited to getting across just a few critical points. The goal is to get the listener interested enough to explore the subject in more depth on their own, perhaps by reading, perhaps by conversation. If too much is packed into a talk, the listener becomes overloaded and is apt to remember less than if the talk were better paced with less information. Worse, the listener may simply give up and cease following. Perhaps even worse is that listeners might get interested and pause to pursue some implications mentally, only later to discover that they thereby missed other material.

              This is one of the points Tufte has continually failed to grasp, not only in his diatribe against PowerPoint, but in almost all of his publications and talks. Tufte is a statistician and I suspect that for him, nothing could be more delightful than a graph or chart which can capture the interest for hours, where each new perusal yields even more information. I agree that this is a marvelous outcome, but primarily for readers, for people sitting in comfortable chairs, with good light and perhaps a writing pad. For people with a lot of time to spend, to think, to ponder. This is not what happens within a talk. Present a rich and complex slide and the viewer is lost. By the time they have figured out the slide, the speaker is off on some other topic.

              The above paragraphs assume that a presenter who has developed his slides according to Tufte's ideals will still present them the way they would present lists of bullet points. If somebody takes the time to develop an effective chart, odds are that they will take the time to explain it and point out the more important trends that it reveals. It is not counterproductive if an audience member also notices a trend that you do not have time to talk about. To assume that it would be counterproductive, as Norman consistently does, it to assume that your audience is stupid, or at least slow on the uptake. With that condescending attitude, your presentation is guaranteed to be bad.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Anonymous Coward
                I've seen Tufte lecture. He presented for the better part of 6 hours, and didn't use ANY slides.

                He made the presentation engaging, took on the audience's skepticism, showed real-world examples and objects, DID provide a handout, and captivated us all day long.

                I took away a brain-full of new ideas and information.

                Two problems for the real-world, though:

                1. Not everybody is Tufte. He's a great presenter. A lot of my college professors were well-meaning schlubs, and I was able to doze through my 7:30 AM classes
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by fossa (212602)

              I'm familiar with books by Tufte and Norman and have attended Tufte's presentation on presenting information. I think Tufte's writings on PowerPoint may fail to emphasize the main problems, but it seems to me that Tufte and Norman are largely in agreement. Norman states,

              Tufte is a statistician and I suspect that for him, nothing could be more delightful than a graph or chart which can capture the interest for hours, where each new perusal yields even more information. I agree that this is a marvelous o

          • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:03PM (#18607687) Homepage Journal

            Speaking of Edward Tufte, check out 'The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint: Pitching out Corrupts Within' for an excellent critique on the misuse of PowerPoint and a primer on the best way to use this tool.

            At the core of Tufte's argument is the notion that PowerPoint (and other slideware) encourages intellectual laziness on the part of the presenter, because it allows a presenter to build a presentation around the software, using it as a crutch. Instead of thinking through complex information and then determining how to augment the oral presentation with selected PowerPoint information, most presenters dumb down the subject matter for PowerPoint. The result is a presentation that has been dumbed-down to suit the needs of the software, not the audience. The presenter is happy, Microsoft is happy, but the audience is not being well-served.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:37PM (#18608303) Journal
        If you want to see the right way to make a powerpoint presentation, go look at the last Steve Jobs keynote address, where he introduced the iphone. He doesn't try to summarize everything, the talking itself should make clear what his points are. Instead he uses the tool where it's strengths are: to show graphs and charts that would be impossible to convey with speech, to show pictures, and occasionally to emphasize some key points.

        By the way, if you find you need to distract people's eyes while you are rambling, it's a sign that the problem is with your rambling, not with the powerpoint. Make your speech interesting enough and you won't need to worry about that.

        The apple keynote [apple.com] for your convenience. The iphone introduction is especially good. It might be worth noting that a lot of Jobs' 'reality distortion field' is just that he doesn't bore people when he talks. Compare his presentation to that of the cingular CEO at the end of the movie and you'll see what I mean.
    • by LibertineR (591918) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:06AM (#18605453)
      Is there anything worse than sitting through some jerk reading their slides verbatim, instead of using them as points to be expanded upon?

      I think we all have, and it is true hell, and creates immediate distrust in the presenter.

      • by eck011219 (851729) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:29AM (#18606001)
        Yep. Waiting for twenty minutes while the presenter screws around trying to get the laptop to reboot (nervously joking about it the whole time) and THEN sitting through that jerk reading his slides verbatim.
      • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:30AM (#18606003) Journal
        I've had university classes where the prof literally read from the book. I'd look at my notes and realize I'd just copied pages from my text book.
        • by sammy baby (14909) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @12:10PM (#18606795) Journal
          Likewise. God, that prof was horrible.

          Once my friend and I realized that he was just reading the textbook, we started leaving fifteen minutes into the class, just to make sure we weren't missing anything. Once he complained about that being "rude", we started alternating, bringing other work to do in class, or just not showing up. Can't say it made a lick of difference.

          Side note: on top of all that, it was a 200 level class on Data Structures, and the prof spent the first several weeks of class telling us how to comment our code. He returned the first of five assignments we'd turned in on the last day of class, at which point I realized that every project I'd done in the class had been "miscommented." "You know," I told him, "it would have been really useful to know you didn't want me to comment them this way before we had to turn the second, third, fourth, and fifth projects."

          He shrugged. "Sorry." Ass.

          (Sorry. Venting complete.)
          • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @12:53PM (#18607553)

            Once he complained about that being "rude"

            I would have complained right back that it's rude to read from the book when he's supposed to be teaching! And then I would have gone to the dean of students or the registrar or whoever and demanded a refund of my tuition.

            • by Nicros (531081) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:30PM (#18608171)
              Great idea. And then they would have said, "No problem! Drop the course and take it later we will refund the cost of the class."

              And then what would happen? You would be short of a full load, waiting to take the class the next quarter/semester. Praying the whole time that the asshole isn't the ONLY guy who teaches that level 200 course.

              Not to mention also praying that the course is offered at all in the next quarter or semester!

              If either one of those things turns out to be true (which is almost certain), Then YOU are the ass, as you will end up delaying your graduation date because of one prick and one class that you couldn't handle.

              In a perfect world we go to college to get educated and you would spend the 10 years there battling it out with the adminstration to get the education you deserve for your money.

              In reality, most people just want to graduate so they can get on with their lives.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lmpeters (892805)

        During a class on child development I took last semester, everyone had to do a presentation in front of the rest of the class on a particular topic. Most people crammed all the information on the slides and read them verbatim, much like you describe. My group, on the other hand, just put a few bullet points on each slide, and interspersed them with visuals that helped convey the points I was making. I also threw in a few exercises where the class could participate, such as a sequence of pictures where th

    • by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:06AM (#18605473)
      Edward Tufte would like to have a word with you.

      And not a Microsoft Word, an actual Word.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by yoghurt (2090)
      It's not powerpoint the software's fault (although I am not a big fan of it) that such briefings are so lousy. It's the format. Having bulleted slides as your format makes it very difficult to convey complicated information. Using a better piece of software than powerpoint won't help that.

      The problem, as I see it, is that you want to present two or three complicated parts and then explain their interrelation, but then you can't fit it all into one neat slide.

      A paper or article can discuss much more compl
    • by liquidpele (663430) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:10AM (#18605551) Journal
      They actually gave us a powerpoint presentation test to grind those types of things into us before we graduated from college because too many people don't know how to effectively use the tool

      Basic points:
      1) Use white/yellow text on dark background if you can, it is easier to read.
      2) Everything must be very brief and in bullet form.
      3) No more than 3 bullets per slide
      4) No more than 3 or 4 main points in the entire presentation, summarize the main points again at the end to ensure the people remember those.
      5) Do not put too many words/graphics/etc because people will be looking at the slide trying to decipher it instead of listening to you.
      6) Make sure all text is really BIG so everyone in the room can read it very easily and quickly.
      • by qwijibo (101731) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:17AM (#18605713)
        7) Send out the presentation ahead of time.

        Some meetings seem like college classes where everyone is copying down pages of notes about what is being displayed instead of listening to what is being said or actually trying to comprehend the subject matter.

        Also, know your audience should be on that list. I've seen way too many presentations where someone is going into painful implementation details with management people who don't understand the implementation, don't understand the details, and only want to distill a 10 second sound bite out of the whole presentation.
        • by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:21AM (#18605805)
          8) Powerpoint is a slide presentation program. Do not use it to create content.
        • by Pchelka (805036) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @03:08PM (#18609963)
          It really irritates me that most of the comments in the discussion of this article have focused on the presenters and why PowerPoint is evil. Being a good listener and paying attention to the material is even more important than the quality of the PowerPoint presentation and the handouts. The slides and handouts don't matter at all if you just don't want to be in a meeting or attending a class.

          I recently taught a college level science course that is typically taken by non-science majors to fulfill graduation requirements. The other instructors in our department recommended that I make my PowerPoint slides available on the course web site before the lectures. When I started doing this, I found that about 75% of the class did stopped coming to the lectures. Warning the students that they would miss important material from demonstrations, discussions, and in-class activities if they skipped lectures did not make any difference in attendance. The students who were interested in the course and willing to do the work to earn good grades downloaded the notes, came to the lectures, and participated in class discussions and activities. Unfortunately, most of the students were only taking the class because their academic advisers forced them to take it or because they were expecting an easy "A." These students downloaded the notes, frequently skipped class, did not participate in class discussions, and then complained that their low test scores were due to my bad teaching, not their lack of effort. Making the PowerPoint slides available before a lecture only helps the students who actually want to learn. If the students aren't willing to take an active role in their own learning experience, nothing the instructor does will help them to learn or retain the material presented in class.

          The same basic idea applies to business meetings and conferences. If you're not paying attention and being an active listener, then it does not matter whether or not the presenter is a good speaker or uses PowerPoint. Having a copy of the slides beforehand does not matter if you decide to skip the meeting since you already have the notes. It also does not help having the slides ahead of time if you do not study them to prepare for the meeting, or if you just sit there passively listening during the meeting. People learn better and retain more when their minds are actively engaged in a presentation through note-taking or discussions of the material being presented.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        You made 6 points in that post, violating your own rule 4. Did those people who were teaching you "how to effectively communicate using power point and extremely long course titles that specify all the course content inculding the final examn paper" have more than 4 points to make?
      • by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @12:14PM (#18606865) Homepage
        you forgot.

        add a walking dollar bill animated graphic to everything, in fact more animations are better.

        Use lots of clipart all over your slides.
        always use a busy animated background.
        Include screenshots of a spreadsheet that are too damn tiny to see anything.

        cheezy humor.

        At least that is what I guess they are teaching at colleges, out new director of marketing that has a MBA in communication and Business Must have went to a powerpoint training class at Notre Dame. BTW, he puts his degrees and alma-matter on EVERY fricking presentation he does.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Crispen (52264)

        1) Use white/yellow text on dark background if you can, it is easier to read.

        Actually, AT&T discovered back in 1989 that for some users light text on a dark background glows [or "halates"] making the text harder to read. If the goal is to make your presentations "universal" [and to avoid ADA/508 lawsuits for creating inaccessible educational material], the rule is DON'T use white/yellow text on a dark background.

        See "Open Look: Graphical user interface style guidelines."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bmac83 (869058)
      Putting more words on your slides also keeps you from looking at your audience, which in an educational setting means probably ignoring when your students aren't well engaged, paying attention, or even comprehending what you're saying. I have had situations where it was as bad as the dusty math professor who writes on the board and never looks back to take questions.

      You also have the factor that presenters who feel their slides are self-contained may not be as motivated to prepare or practice their deliver
    • by xoyoyo (949672)
      Powerpoint destroys the ability to think, both in presenters and recipients. Edward Tufte has been banging this drum for a decade, I'm glad someone's caught up with him: https://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-m sg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1 [edwardtufte.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vertinox (846076)
      Is it PowerPoint's fault, or the fault of the Powerpoint creator?

      I can't remember where I heard it, but if you need Powerpoint to explain a point or to keep the audiences attention then you just aren't a very good presenter.

      Now I've given Powerpoint presentations myself, but usually to show screen shots of how an application works. Even if you are the greatest speaker in the world, you can't really describe menu structures to people and hope for them to remember it without seeing the application.

      But my bad
    • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:18AM (#18605725) Homepage Journal

      Whenever I do a presentation, the bullets on my slides are extremely brief, usually no more than 4-5 words.

      Technically, it's best if your slides have NO BULLET POINTS. They are a visual aid, designed to allow you to display visual information. That means slides like charts, graphs, photographs, logos, etc. When you're discussing something that lacks a visual aid, the slide should show nothing more than the topic of discussion. That helps keep listener attention on yourself, and not on your slides.

      Watch Steve Jobs give a presentation sometime. Notice how the attention is almost always focused on Jobs. The only time it's not is when he explicitly directs your attention to some sort of demonstration or visual aid on the background screen.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Azathfeld (725855)
        Another good example is the visual presentation of information in An Inconvenient Truth. Gore uses data and images as a reinforcement of what he's saying, and never as a way to simply repeat what's in the lecture.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mdielmann (514750)

        They are a visual aid, designed to allow you to display visual information. That means slides like charts, graphs, photographs, logos, etc. When you're discussing something that lacks a visual aid, the slide should show nothing more than the topic of discussion.
        But how will I use the 700 features in PowerPoint, especially the 30 new ones in the latest version?

        The answer, of course, is "don't".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tomz16 (992375)
        It depends on the ultimate use for the slides. I have dozens of binders, and gigs of powerpoint presentations on everything from classes that I took, conferences that I went too, and projects that I worked on. I VERY frequently refer back to them. I create and give presentations to others every week or so, and frequently use my own slides as a reference for myself in future work. If the slides had nothing but pictures and figures on them, they would be absolutely worthless. There HAS to be at least a s
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LibertineR (591918)
      Just to expand my point,

      If a presenter is reading their own slides, it is a dead givaway that they dont really know the subject matter. If a presenter only glances at a slide to see where they are, need to skip ahead, or spend extra time on a particular point through prior audience request, then you have a hope of learning something from that person, which IS THE POINT.

      You are not supposed to be learning from the slides, just getting information about what you are hopefully going to learn from the speak

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        That isn't always the point. A thought that occurred to me the last time I attended a Tufte lecture was that, in a lot of cases, the point is to obscure the facts and the data and mislead the audience into making the choice the presenter wants.

        This is true of nearly all sales pitch presentations. Tufte worked on both Shuttle disasters, so he mentions them a lot, and in some of the presentations he criticizes the entire point behind them was to deflect blame. Lockheed Martin didn't want their wing design to
    • by Tom (822)

      Is it PowerPoint's fault, or the fault of the Powerpoint creator?
      Microsoft is at fault for making people with no training in presentation whatsoever think that thanks to Powerpoint, they can make one. They explicitly market the crap that way, and the thing does nothing at all to enforce good slide design.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Rob the Bold (788862)

        Microsoft is at fault for making people with no training in presentation whatsoever think that thanks to Powerpoint, they can make one. They explicitly market the crap that way, and the thing does nothing at all to enforce good slide design.

        Yes. Powerpoint is pretty much the Saturday Night Special of presentation "aids". There were plenty of bad presentations back in the olden days, but at least the format forced you to consider what you were doing. When slides were actual 35mm slides or overhead proje

      • WRONG. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by LibertineR (591918)
        Disclaimer: I worked for Microsoft.

        Microsoft forces those who will be giving public presentations to take a one week training course on doing it right. It was jokingly called 'Touch-Turn-Talk' school, for those of us hired who were not comfortable public speakers. Probably the best career enhancement class I ever took. We were videotaped and able to see along with our classmates the the true extent of our suckage.

        At the end of the class, the improvement was amazing.

        No company should allow anyone to sp

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tb3 (313150)
          Pity Gates and Ballmer didn't go on those courses. The slides I've seen behind them at recent presentations have been some of the most awful in living memory. Take a look at the slides on this page [blogs.com] for some examples of what I'm talking about.
          I guess the bosses get an exemption. Pity.
    • 11/19/1863

      And now please welcome President Abraham Lincoln.

      Good morning. Just a second while I get this connection to work. Um, my name is Abe Lincoln and I'm your president. While we're waiting, I want to thank Judge David Wills, chairman of the committee supervising the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery. It's great to be here, Dave, and you and the committee are doing a great job. Gee, sometimes this new technology does have glitches, but we couldn't live without it, could we? Oh - is it ready? OK

  • by LibertineR (591918) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:03AM (#18605381)
    So naturally its true!

    Oh wait,.......

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by darkitecture (627408)

      I saw a Powerpoint presentation on this! So naturally its true!

      Are you sure? I wasn't paying attention...

  • To better illustrate the point.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:03AM (#18605391)
    I've been seeing crappy slideshow presentations longer than computers have been around. Don't get all anti-MS FUD crazy again and start blaming this on MS: the problem is with the presentation format, not the application.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by click2005 (921437)
      I was going to blame people who take holiday photos then insist on showing you them all.
      Nothing seems to induce brain death quicker than holiday snaps.
      Maybe the two problems are connected.
    • by khendron (225184)
      It's not the program, it's the medium. In this case the medium is the screen.

      I once had a Calculus prof whose lectures were awful. This was pre-powerpoint: he used transparencies and an overhead projector. All he would do is plop something on the overhead, read it to us, and then plop down the next slide, and repeat.

      One day the overhead was broken. Without a blink of an eye he picked up a piece of chalk and began lecturing the old fashioned way, writing down stuff on the blackboard. The prof was transfo
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by lahvak (69490)

        One day the overhead was broken. Without a blink of an eye he picked up a piece of chalk and began lecturing the old fashioned way, writing down stuff on the blackboard. The prof was transformed from a deadly boring lecturer to an absolutely fascinating speaker. There was much more class interaction and I learned way more in that class than in any previous class.

        I think this perfectly illustrates the problem with Powerpoint. When you watch a lecture with blackboard and chalk, you actually see the ideas de

  • Slides? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by locokamil (850008) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:03AM (#18605393) Homepage
    Where's the powerpoint displaying the findings?
  • by TodMinuit (1026042) <todminuit@NOspAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:05AM (#18605439)
    Slide 1: TFA
    • Their right
    • They make good points
    • They are smart

    Slide 2: Cheese
    • Tastes good
    • Great with sandwiches
    • Bad for you

    Slide 3: Conclusion
    • The article: Correct
    • Cheese: Jury's still out

    Thank you, I will now take questions from the audience.
  • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:05AM (#18605447)

    Power-point presentations can backfire if the information on the screen is the same as that which is verbalized, because the audience's attention will be split between the two.
    This is a bit more subtle than "PowerPoint bad"; it says you shouldn't simply verbalize the slides. Interesting to me, because my style is to do exactly that. I find if my slides are too broad, my extemporaneous speech tends to wander, so I try to put the sufficient detail in them, and stick to them. Uh oh!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by D4rk Fx (862399)
      A good way to present the information is just to put a broad idea of what you're going to talk about on the slides. I don't mind if profs use note cards as long as the notes are making good use of the class time, and you know the material well enough to field questions students might have. DEFINITELY do not just read your slides or cards. This is really boring and makes me feel like being there is a complete waste of time. Make it at least seem like you're trying to interact with a classroom instead of a ta
    • I find if my slides are too broad, my extemporaneous speech tends to wander, so I try to put the sufficient detail in them, and stick to them. Uh oh!
      Why would you make an extemporaneous speech? You take all this time to put together the slides, but you can't think about what you're going to say beforehand? That sounds like a very bad practice, after all, if the spoken word isn't important, why talk at all?
    • by kisrael (134664)
      Make two sets of slides... the ones for you to read, and then each verbose card's title as a bullet point in the set you actually show them.

      Just an idea...
  • Oblig. Tufte (Score:5, Informative)

    by cgrayson (22160) * on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:06AM (#18605461) Homepage

    See also: information presentation expert Edward Tufte's essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint [edwardtufte.com].

    Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis.
    • Re:Oblig. Tufte (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:19AM (#18605757)
      Tufte is correct about a lot of things related to data presentation, but I think he lets Powerpoint become the focal point for a lot of his complaints that would be better directed elsewhere.

      He doesn't like Microsoft style graphs. While you can create a graph from inside Powerpoint, you are actually doing in in MS Graph (or some similar name). He doesn't like 'chartoonery', but that isn't Powerpoints problem either. Gaudy slide backgrounds and car crash noises probably fit though.

      What he is actually unhappy about is more that many people trade in visual tricks for good quality data and analysis. You can hide the fact that you entirely missed the causal variable in your analysis of rocket motor O-ring failure if you enthrall the audience with little rocket motor shaped pictures on your graphs. A more accurate title for the essay you quote might have been "The Cognitive Style of Computer Software", because there are a whole lot of bits and pieces of programs that go into making all these stupid presentations. Tufte will even admit that Powerpoint is just fine for feeding slides to your projector, just don't actually create content in it.
  • "It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. but it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented."[1]

    But, we already knew that. How many of us complain when the presentation speaker simply reads the power point slides to us? The best practice is to give short, simple phrases as cues that helps organize the listener's understanding of t
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:08AM (#18605513)

    Power corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts absolutely.

    --Edward Tufte

  • Typical media spin (Score:5, Informative)

    by binaryDigit (557647) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:09AM (#18605539)
    The point isn't that PowerPoint is bad, it's in how it's used. The thing they stress in the article is that the PPP and the spoken words should not be exactly the same, basically that the presenter should not simply read their slides. It doesn't mention using the slides as adjuncts to what is spoken, which presumably would be fine assuming the presenter leaves slices of time for the audience to consume the contents of their slides and then mentally switch back to the presenter again. I think that anecdotally most of us are already aware of this fact, presentations where the presentor simply regurgitates their slides tend to be the most boring and least useful (until you figure out that is what they're doing and totally switch mental energies to other things knowing that you can always review the slides later, aka day dreaming).
  • by davek (18465) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:10AM (#18605565) Homepage Journal
    FTFA:

    "It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented." [Said John Sweller, from the university's faculty of education]
    I've noticed this a lot in my academic and professional life. The moment a person gets up with his shiny, animated powerpoint slides, and then proceeds to READ ALOUD the bullet points he's showing to me, I immediately mark him as an idiot. If you can't even rephrase yourself, then you don't have much of an idea of what you're talking about.

    However, this guy isn't decrying the effectiveness of visual aids. We can thank Dimitry Martin for that proof (observe his visual aids when explaining the google/viacom spat: http://www.jimmyr.com/blog/Google_Youtube_Viacom_L awsuit_89_2007.php [jimmyr.com]). The point is you must describe what people are seeing, not just "here's a picture of an apple!"

    -dave
  • so how are we supposed to give a presentation?

    I write a presentation and I get told I use too many words, sum it up take some out and make it shorter and the words bigger. Until it is bullet points, five per page, with pictures. Of course some information will be lost that way. If I do it the way I want to do it, I get a lower grade and people get bored and lose interest in the presentation. The presentation is an important part of some college classes.
  • by The tECHIDNA (677584) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:20AM (#18605779) Homepage
    FTFA: "It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented." Well, here's a hint: stop reading from your PowerPoint presentations as if it were a speech. The PPT is to supplement what you're talking about (visual aids, anyone?), not to show to the audience the equivalent of Microsoft Sam "reading" a Word document. This was drilled into me by my CS teachers. For our three seminar classes on the road to my CS degree, you were expected to give lots of presentations, and they needed to last for at least 10 mins. Far too frequently, my colleagues just got up there and read verbatim from what was typed on the PowerPoint slides. One of my CS teacher's solutions was this (after roughly 20 seconds of verbatim reading): "Wait, wait, wait...stop. Just stop. Look, all of us in here know how to read. If you're going to just 'read to us' your presentation, just give us a printout of your PowerPoint slides, and sit down, as you have nothing else to offer and you're wasting our time. Next!" Of course, they got a failing grade for the presentation part of the essay/small thesis and got their feelings hurt. And my opinion? Better in the university than in the boardroom.
  • When I was starting my own company a few years back I applied for sponsorship to get it going. As part of the interview process they asked applicants to do a 20 minute presentation for the selection board. I wanted the board to understand what I was doing and to realise I knew my stuff so I produced precisely four slides. They were black and white, plain simple text consisting of a single sentence which served as a banner to each of the points I was making along the lines of "what is it?", "who uses it?"
  • by Jameson Burt (33679) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:21AM (#18605803)
    In Toastmasters 10 years ago, we had a flurry of short speeches using PowerPoint.
    One fellow, working for the Pentagon, said the military had tired of PowerPoint presentations,
    where individuals took great effort to produce graphics and sound,
    at the opportunity cost of content.
    The presentations became more like juveniles showing off their songs and
    latest toys.

    Large sections of the military then banned much of PowerPoint,
    particularly sound and glittering graphics.

    I myself continue making presentations with the most difficult
    but most thought-out of tools, LaTeX,
    which is actually a mathematical book publishing tool.
  • by RichPowers (998637) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:27AM (#18605949)
    Graphic and layout design is not easy. Why do you think so many websites look like crap? For the same reason most PowerPoints do: few people have the talent to effectively organize and present information. I've worked on a few publications and have some Photoshop/InDesign classes under my belt. If I must, I can create a decent slideshow that doesn't make people slam their heads against the table in frustration :)

    In skilled hands, PowerPoint can be a powerful tool. But it can just as easily ruin a meeting or presentation if the user doesn't know what he's doing...
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:27AM (#18605953) Journal
    Why are people cribbing about powerpoint being bad? I have seen people make these things called "papers". They download things like the style files from American Math Society or something and use some software created by Donal Knuth called TeX or by Leslie Lamport called LaTeX. Lots and lots of Greek and Latin and strange symbols and unreadable things. They are extremely bad and they dont communicate anything useful to me.

    Of course, it has nothing whatsoever with my ability to understand or the ability of the author to communicate, it all the fault of the tool used.

  • by Ushiroda80 (992590) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:28AM (#18605959)
    Edward Tufte, a professor emeritus of Yale has previously written about the problems of Powerpoint http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-ms g?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1 [edwardtufte.com] , and gives the example of how the 1986 Challenger explosion could have been prevented if NASA didn't rely so heavily upon it for presentations. In summary it's about how Powerpoint is a poor tool for communication, As opposed to just text, or speech.
  • by HangingChad (677530) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:32AM (#18606069) Homepage

    This is your brain.

    This is your brain on PowerPoi...what was the question again?

  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @11:49AM (#18606429)
    If you RTFA, you'll note (once you get past the the typical spin in the first couple 'graphs of any newspaper article) that the substance is not that PowerPoint, or presentation software more generally, or even, more generally still, using visual aids in a presentation is ineffective or hurts retention.

    Its presenting exact same information in the same manner (i.e., the same words) in multiple different formats simultaneously hurts retention. As John Sweller states in TFA:

    It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.


    Of course, anyone who has taken a basic speech class that discusses effective use of visual aids would know that's exactly the wrong use of a visual aid, computerized or otherwise. So, while its interesting research that reveals that what is widely accepted by experts in the field of communication to be a bad practice is actually demonstrably counterproductive to recall rather than merely an annoyance to the audience that isn't an optimum use of resources, its not any kind of particular blow against PowerPoint, presentation software, or visual aids in presentation, just further reinforcement that having an easy-to-use tool to produce and display visual aids doesn't replace understanding how to effectively use them.

  • by Lethyos (408045) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @12:08PM (#18606759) Journal

    Presentation Zen [presentationzen.com]. Definitely read their contrast of presentations given by Gates and Jobs [blogs.com]. On a personal note, I can proudly say I have never given a presentation with bullet points. I tried hard to give up that crutch and the result has always been commendation afterwards. My audiences have described my presentations as fluid, participatory, and engaging. Avoiding bullet points at least proves you know your material. Also remember that your presentation is there to enhance what you have to say, and not the other way around.

  • by p3d0 (42270) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:00PM (#18607643)

    Most people can't create good presentations.

    (I know I'm not the first to put this comment here; the real reason I'm commenting is that I want to describe how I make PowerPoint presentations...)

    I do a lot of technical presentations. I imagine that I am explaining the topic to someone interactively using a white board (which is always very effective). Then I just make slides containing a cleaned up (and often animated) version of what I would have put on that white board. No whole-paragraph bullet points or long blocks of text.

  • by cerberusss (660701) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:12PM (#18607877) Homepage Journal
    They can research all they want, but everyone knows how to make a powerpoint presentation *ahem* "memorable"...

    Narrator: that's when you'll catch a flash of Tyler's contribution to the film.
    [the audience is watching the film, the pornography flashes for a split second]
    Narrator: Nobody knows that they saw it, but they did...
    Tyler Durden: A nice, big, cock...
  • by Khelder (34398) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:17PM (#18607961)
    If you really want to give a bad talk, merely using PowerPoint may not be enough. If you neglect Dave Patterson's advice [berkeley.edu], you might inadvertently give a good talk after all.

    More advice from Dave Messerschmitt [berkeley.edu].

    Re: PP, I agree with some other posts I've seen here that PP can be used badly or well. Most of the aweful PP talks I've seen would have been just as bad (and possibly worse) with another technology.

    That said, it's not as though all tools for a given task are equivalent. I'm a lot more likely to make a long straight cut using a table saw with a guide than I am using a hand saw without a guide (and possibly even with).

    In this regard, I don't think PP is nearly as bad an offender as MS Word, because Word makes it far too easy to do bad things, like ignore styles, and hard to do good things, like use styles instead of one-off formatting. (In fairness, it seems to be improving, but is still a far cry from, say, FrameMaker from 1992.)

  • by MythoBeast (54294) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @01:35PM (#18608259) Homepage Journal
    Their findings completely fail to take into account multiple learning styles. People have a mix of learning styles. For most of us, we absorb information most easily when we get it in auditory or visual form - heard or read. There are also kinesthetic learners and cognitive learners - people who don't learn unless they're moving, or don't learn unless they're figuring it out for themselves. Anyone who's tried to teach a fidgetter should know that asking them to sit still shuts down their brain from absorbing information. Every person has their own unique mix of these styles.

    People who are heavy visual learners will tune out what the speaker is saying and just read what's on it. Most of the stuff that the speaker is saying is near insensible anyway because those paths aren't very good at absorption. For heavy auditory learners, you could have almost anything on the slide, but it wouldn't matter unless the speaker described it. The power point isn't redundant to the speaker, it's a backup, in case the audience contains heavy visual/poor auditory learners.

    The best teachers in the industry also include segments where they have their students moving physically about the classroom. One well-known teacher of teachers has an example where he gets across the difference between parallel and serial by having the students line up and walk across a line, and then walk across the line in groups. The idea behind exercises is to appeal to the cognitive learners.

    It's fine for people to say that it clogs the pathways when you try to absorb things through two channels at once, but for most of us it's an either/or, where we pick the one that best suits us.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      Their findings completely fail to take into account multiple learning styles.

      No, they just fail to accord with your expectations based on your beliefs about how multiple learning styles should make the results turn out.

      People who are heavy visual learners will tune out what the speaker is saying and just read what's on it. Most of the stuff that the speaker is saying is near insensible anyway because those paths aren't very good at absorption. For heavy auditory learners, you could have almost anything on

  • by failedlogic (627314) on Wednesday April 04, 2007 @02:14PM (#18609011)
    I'm a recent university grad. Some professors chose to use PowerPoint and others did not. Of all the lectures, professional presentations, meetings etc I've attended, Powerpoint was never really the problem. Sure it is if its distracting. The slides aren't to the point. But the best presentations are when presenters challenge the audience's views, are engaging, make accurate statements, and interpret the material correctly. Powerpoint slides don't do this, people do. That's what's missing.

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