Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?
Microsoft Data Storage Software

PowerPoint Makes You Dumb 450

jpatokal writes "The New York Times confirms what we've suspected all along: PowerPoint makes you dumb. In a new essay, information theorist Edward Tufte outlines why PowerPoint 'forces people to mutilate data beyond comprehension.' The Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA agrees, noting that the slides produced by engineers to report on the wing damage were so confusing that 'a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation.'" Tufte's essay (and the shuttle/PowerPoint critique) has been available for sale since earlier this year, but the NYT article gives a greater sampling of its content than Tufte's website does.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

PowerPoint Makes You Dumb

Comments Filter:
  • Impress (Score:5, Insightful)

    by m00nun1t ( 588082 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:41AM (#7715502) Homepage
    ...yet Open Office Impress copies all these flaws faithfully.
    • Re:Impress (Score:5, Funny)

      by t0ny ( 590331 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:42PM (#7717766)
      I heard that MS Word makes people stupid too, because if you want to write something, you have to type it yourself!

      You also have to spell correctly if you cant use the spell checker, you need to make coherent sentences, and actually possess some sort of writing skill to make people understand what you are saying!

      Oh, the humanity!

      • good point (Score:5, Interesting)

        by GCP ( 122438 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @06:51PM (#7720232)
        There are really two issues: form and content, but they're related.

        I think it's true that PowerPoint makes some forms (e.g., bulleted lists) easier than others (e.g., detailed blueprints), and that has an effect on the substance. You're more likely to come up with substance that fits easily into the form you imagine presenting in, and you're likely to imagine presenting in the form that's easiest to produce in your "presentation" software.

        This is how the design of PowerPoint really does impact the actual substance of the message.

        That being said, though, I think it's silly to put most of the blame on PowerPoint. I've made a lot of presentations to top execs in many industries in many countries over many years.

        Since long before PowerPoint existed, I've noticed that top execs *demand* presentations in the form made easiest by PP. Their days are a non-stop parade of presentations designed to sell them on one idea after another. They want the minimum information necessary for them to be able to make what they (and NOT the presenters) consider a sufficiently well-informed decision to either take a next step or kill the project immediately. Once they feel they they have the info to make that decision, they'll stop your presentation in mid-slide, and you're done, so you'd better get your best ideas into the first two or three slides.

        This is NOT the way scientists should make their presentations or decisions, and Tufte's work primarily focuses on presenting scientific information.

        The blame then should not be on PP so much as on those who PP as the medium for all types of presentations. Unfortunately, the mechanics of putting information in front of a live audience are demanding, so the conveniences of PowerPoint make it seductive.

        Of course, it's seductive to blame various bogeymen, such as MS, for all of the world's problems, too. That's another form of "dumbing down" an analysis.

  • It's not software (Score:5, Insightful)

    by October_30th ( 531777 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:42AM (#7715504) Homepage Journal
    That's not a software problem.

    It's a people problem. I do and watch scientific presentations as a part of my job and I am constantly appalled at the low quality of presentations.

    There are few simple rules on how to make a good presentation: 1) Use a projector - stop using transparencies, 2) avoid text on your slides at all costs 3) use plenty of full colour figures and simple animation but don't overdo it and 4) rehearse your presentation so that you know it by heart - nothing irritates me as much as someone who just reads his slides to the audience.

    • Re:It's not software (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nagora ( 177841 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:47AM (#7715525)
      That's not a software problem.

      It's a people problem.

      Yes, and it was a "people problem" when ATM's used to pay out the cash before returning your card and people kept laving their cards behind. But sometimes you need to change your software to allow for the "people problems".


    • by wfberg ( 24378 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:02AM (#7715562)
      There are few simple rules on how to make a good presentation: 1) Use a projector - stop using transparencies, 2) avoid text on your slides at all costs 3) use plenty of full colour figures and simple animation but don't overdo it and 4) rehearse your presentation so that you know it by heart - nothing irritates me as much as someone who just reads his slides to the audience.

      Add to that;
      5) only add major points on your slides, but don't forget to include a full text in the "notes" section, and make sure that if you distribute the presentation electronically it displays notes by default.
      6) the presentation is not your report; distribute a separate, full-text, full-detail report. You can refer to this report for answering any intricate questions the audience might have.
      7) if you're giving a presentation in a language that is not your, or the audiences, mothertongue (such as; jargonese), make sure that complicated or hard-to-pronounce words appear on the slides, and are referred to in the spoken part of the presentation in multiple ways (i.e. synonyms, explanations).
      8) colors should work in black and white as well, for print-outs and crappy projectors.
      9) the last slide WILL include your e-mail and web address.
      10) the audience is NOT wearing any clothes.

      that's all I can think of right now..
      • Re:It's not software (Score:4, Informative)

        by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:01PM (#7717927) Homepage Journal
        My preferred technique for making presentations is as follows: when writing up my report in LaTeX (I'm a math person, so LaTeX is the natural choice) I include an extra \summary{ summary of paragraph } at the start of every paragraph, long equation array, etc. It's very little work to do this while writing the full report. My standard document class simply ignores summary content. I have another document class, however, that ignores the paragraph content and simply renders the section headings etc. and summary content to prettily rendered pdf slides. It takes some work setting up the document classes so that both versions look as elegant in each form, but once that's done you run LaTeX once and get your full report, then run it again, and get your presentation. Very easy, and it keeps the content much better.

    • Re:It's not software (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Daggie ( 676753 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:09AM (#7715584) Homepage
      4) rehearse your presentation so that you know it by heart

      I beg to differ. Do NOT learn your presentation by heart. Make sure you understand the subject. Make sure you know it thoroughly. If your slides are good, just interact with them. Show your audience what you're saying (many people like to SEE it). Short strong words are (imho) necessary on a presentation for the audience to keep focus)

      There is nothing more boring then a presentation where somebody just rattles on about a subject. PLUS when you are asked a question, you often forget what you were saying. You loose track of your text like that.

      If you have no clue what you are saying, then learn it by heart and watch your audience fall asleep.
      • Re:It's not software (Score:4, Interesting)

        by adam872 ( 652411 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:35PM (#7718223)
        Agreed. The best presenters are well versed in their subject area and are confident enough to not only put that across to the audience, but handle tricky questions while in mid presentation. I've always been impressed by folks who can stop what their saying, answer a difficult question, then pick up where they left off.

        The best recent example I can think of was a guy from NetAPP who basically didn't have anything prepared and just stood up and talked for 45 minutes. That sounds boring on the face of it, but I came away knowing a lot more about their technology than before and actually enjoyed listening to him. He clearly knew what he was talking about and this came across in how passionate he was when speaking about it.
    • I take it you've never done a presentation...

      Some things you can handle with diagrams and illustrations, sure. Some things are worse than useless presented diagramattically. At which point you need to explain what you're talking about using plain, simple English as a series of points.

      Try and do all PowerPoint presentations with graphics explaining every slide and you'll have confused delegates.
    • by ergo98 ( 9391 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:56AM (#7715705) Homepage Journal
      2) avoid text on your slides at all costs

      Any graphics that require interpretation will basically lose the audience, as the vast majority of people will tune you out and interpret it themselves. I've seen this in action at quite a few presentations.

      Your points seem to propose a technique of "presenting to people who don't really care", and my experience is that such people don't really care regardless of how "jazzed up" your presentation is. If people care they're really there to listen and absorb a lecture of sorts, and the presentation is just something to point your eyes at rather than staring at the presenter, or as a medium to present data that's best formed as graphics, which is a subset.

      Having said all of that, I have two pieces of advice for powerpoint presentations-

      1) Never provide a hand-out of the presentation -- this is a way for people to escape your presentation and they'll just skim ahead, making presumptions about everything you're going to say, and then ignore the rest.

      2) This is totally contrary to the whole subject of this article, but I truly believe that a presentation is a multimedia display, and in no way should the presentation have to hold up on its own -- i.e. If people weren't there, they shouldn't expect the same absorption or understanding skimming the presentation without the supporting presenter (unless you provide a full video recording of the presentation when you distribute it). Many people propose that presentations have to be fully self-supporting and that is just wrong.
    • by Per Abrahamsen ( 1397 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @10:25AM (#7715895) Homepage
      Your three rules are the problem, they result in presentations that are visually stimulating, but does not carry any information that sticks.

      Such presentations are very simular to TV news. If you ask people after watching a TV news broadcast, they in general answer that they feel informed. But if you ask them about what was in the newscast, they remember very little.

      PowerPoint presentations have the same effect, they give the subjective impression of being informative, but the audience learn very little from them.

      Your advice are fine if you want to be popular. If you'd rather want to be informative, here are some better advice:

      1. Blackboards rule, if have the skills. But they require a lot of the teacher in organization talent, multitasking, and handwriting. For most people, transparents are better. Handwritten is best, if you can write so everybody can read it.
      2. The basis should be the oral presentation, the slides should support it by providing structure. This mean they should be mostly text, but not much. A good slide has 5 plus/minus 2 bullets (yes, it is cliche, but it works), each containing 1-3 words highliting a point in your presentation. Never complete sentenses, they are an aid to your oral presentation, not a replacement for it. Using handwritting helps avoid overloading the slides.
      3. A bit of carfully chosen color is fine. Avoid animations at all cost. Some topics will need diagrams, but remember, you can not actually present raw data in this form, only the conclusions and highlights. Keep the diagrams few, and if you have any drwaing skills, prefer handdrawn diagrams.
      4. You will obviously need to know what information you want to get across, and you should attempt the presentation at least once. But do not learn it by rote, unless you are an actor or other professional. For most people, a bit of improvision on the spot makes the presentation feel more alive to the audience.
      Of course, if your job depends on a positive evaluation from the audience, or you are doing this as part of an entertainment gig, follow the other guys advice. The audience will feel entertained, and give you high marks (or suggest friend to hire you). My advice only pertain to the, perhaps rare, case when you have some information it is important to you to deliver to your audience.
    • It seems most of us can agree that PowerPoint makes it too easy to make bad, form-over-function slide presentations. But why not produce tools that help the author check the readability/confusability of the slides. This scoring system could work on the slide-pack level or on the slide level. I can also see ways in which the scoring system could provide advice on correcting the problem.

      I see the scoring system as checking the following 6 dimensions of readability. It should probably score each dimensi
    • Great Troll. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by twitter ( 104583 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:48AM (#7716705) Homepage Journal
      To defend Power Point, you pretend to be an expert and then exhort us to:

      stop using transparencies,

      A perfect Steve Barkto! Blame the user, denigrate the competition and pump up the Microsoft way. The only problem in this instance is that you inadvertenly and completely defeat yourself.

      Transparacy presentations prove that Power Point sucks. Why is it that these problems were not problems with hand made transpariancies? Because there's no mindless rule set restricting the hand of an artist hand painting a transparency. For years, hand made transparencies were a mark of profesionalism. This is why slide making programs were invented. Microsoft's constricting rules, combined with the ease of type setting an image, create bad presentations that look good, the worste possible case. The amazing thing is that Power Point's building process, like most Microsoft junk, has remained exaclty as it was hastily flung together ten years ago. All Microsoft has done is add "features" for onramenting the poorly done job. It is true that effective presentations can be made though Microsoft's tool, it just requires too much effort and that's why it makes you dumb. Microsoft has concentrated on the wrong things and won't be able to make a reasonable tool to compete against free alternatives from Sun, KDE and Gnome, which also can use a fancy and expensive projector.

    • i agree with you that software itself doesn't cause people to make bad presentations but i think a culture of bad presentations are the norm. people who don't realize that their presentation is overly complicated and difficult to understand. issues like that should deal with a presenter fully equipped to deal with those issues with a great oral presentation. I've never thought that the actual slide content would ever be as important as the oral because you can't condense your entire speech into slides.

    • Speaking as a person who attends conferences and has also had to help students with presentations.

      Transparencies are fine. Infact they much easier to read than PP files because the resolution is soooo much higher. Of course you need to switch your style to "Slides" in LaTeX so that it will ...

      1) Use a large font size
      2) Use a sans serif like ariel font and NOT a serif font like times

      Those rules should be held when using PP too, also

      a) use the highest resolution that the projector allows
      b) turn the font s
    • by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @03:37PM (#7718743) Journal
      The most important presentation rule of all is that you must tell a story.

      Your story does not have to be like a novel or anything, but you do want to co-opt the standard story order: Problem, elaboration, solution, resolution (effects of solution). This time-tested structure drives your presentation forward and makes people more likely to want to listen.

      The two other presentation orders I see result in flawed presentations, regardless of the other qualities of the presentation. "Random facts in random order", by far the most common, results in an incoherent presentation that leaves the listener to try to pick out the most important facts themselves; perhaps valid in some ways but for the most part that indicates failure on your part.

      "Solution first" may seem more appealing then my formulation, but popping the climax right off the bat leaves the rest of the presentation an anti-climax. It's important to explain the problem, so as to motivate the listener to listen.

      By the time you get to the solution, significant chunks of your audience should want to hear the solution.

      Of course, this only really applies to presentations more then ten minutes or so; shorter then that and it doesn't much matter. That's also why this message is "solution first"... of course, it's also not a presentation, it's online writing, so newspaper rules are in effect, but it's also because you shouldn't need ten minutes to read this post.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:43AM (#7715509)
    I'm watching the PowerPoint presentation now.
  • by mattjb0010 ( 724744 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:43AM (#7715512) Homepage
    In a new essay, information theorist Edward Tufte outlines why PowerPoint 'forces people to mutilate data beyond comprehension.' The Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA agrees, noting that the slides produced by engineers to report on the wing damage were so confusing that 'a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but powerpoint doesn't have a wizard that says "it looks like you're trying to insert text saying `life threatening situation' in size 44 text, would you like to Dilbertize this slide?".
  • just plain silly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MadMirko ( 231667 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:44AM (#7715515)
    How do you come from "noting that the slides produced by engineers to report on the wing damage were so confusing that 'a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation'" to "PowerPoint Makes You Dumb"?

    We have seen so much bullshit in plain text / html / .rtf / .pdf (and this story goes right along), but would anyone state that "vi / tex / Acrobat makes you dumb"?

    Please, no more...
  • Powerpoint Flaws (Score:4, Insightful)

    by graystar ( 223824 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:44AM (#7715517) Homepage
    What I find annoying is when you get those wannabe technophiles who think because they have a flashie animation and a cool sound they somehow have a good presentation.

    It makes you not think of the content. "Here is plane, with a major design fault" BONG CRASH...laughter, no wonder.
    • by Amiga Lover ( 708890 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @10:03AM (#7715724)
      What I find annoying is when you get those wannabe technophiles who think because they have a flashie animation and a cool sound they somehow have a good presentation.

      I think you've hit the hammer on the head there.

      Think back to when everyone first got homepages. Geocities. iridescent backgrounds, rainbow colours, huge text and animated gifs galore.

      Fortunately the anonymity of the internet allowed us to email these people and go "Fuck your page sucks shit! burned my eyes. GAAAAAH".

      Can't do that to the boss about his PPT presentation though.
  • Their powerpoint slide giving evidence of illegal copying of code into linux is a perfect example of this.
  • 1) PowerPoint makes you dumb
    2) David Byrne [] has been getting his PowerPoint on, to produce art.
    3) Therefore, art makes you dumb?
    Hmmm... do we also believe guns kill people, not the people pulling the triggers?
  • NASA and /. (Score:3, Funny)

    by ErrorBase ( 692520 ) <> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:47AM (#7715527)
    Have a lot in common :
    If in doubt Blame Microsoft !
    (or SCO but that was no option in this case)
  • The real problem is that the NASA engineers choose the wrong means of communication, when trying to explain what I would suspect to be a rather complicated situation.
    Who's fault is that?

    You can say a lot about the guys at Redmond, but I doubt their PowerPoint team has any rocket scientists associated with them.
    *pun intended*
  • by arcanumas ( 646807 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:52AM (#7715539) Homepage
    PowerPoint or any proesentations of this form was never intended to substitute normal means of presenting data.

    A complicated and information rich report will always have to be read to be understood.
    PowerPoint is useful for summarizng data, Assisting a speaker and other helpful functions.
    So saying that PowerPoint makes you dumb makes no sense. It's a tool. If you use it in the wrong way then you already are dumb.
    Kids can stick screwdrivers into electrical plugs. But do screwdrivers make kids dumb?

    • by Ludoo ( 12304 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:08AM (#7715579) Homepage
      A problem I see every day where I work (60k employees organization) is that PP is used for EVERYTHING, not only presentations. In fact, upper management EXPECTS complex issues to be analyzed with a short Power Point document. Anything longer, they just don't read it.

      Power Point makes you dumb by giving you the illusion of performing a deep, logical analysis of an issue, when in fact all you're doing is presenting it in a very superficial way.
  • by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:52AM (#7715540) Journal
    ... assuming the deliverer of the presentation is the author, anyway...

    It seems the art of delivering a coherent "story" for a message has been lost in this modern day of 10-second soundbites, and flashy presentations, but it's not the medium's fault that the message is confusing, it's the creator of the message.

    There are rules for imparting highly-technical information to others who may not be as "up on it" as yourself...
    • Take time to lay the foundations of your main point, build slowly and incrementally towards it.
    • Deliver summaries on a regular basis so people can checkpoint their way through the technical ideas.
    • Use graphics if they convey the message better than words, or if appropriate for humour. Understanding often arrives with a chuckle.
    • Sound effects are (almost) always useless.
    • Don't over-complicate, make it as detailed as it needs to be and no more.

    This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I've found them useful guidelines...

  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:53AM (#7715541) Homepage
    The truth is that only dumb people use PowerPoint. Smart people are bored to tears when dumb people force them to watch a PP presentation.

    What scares me is that the schools are actually teaching and using PowerPoint!
    • by Amiga Lover ( 708890 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:57AM (#7715551)
      > What scares me is that the schools are actually teaching and using PowerPoint!

      Tell me about it. My nephew just finished his highschool finals. Among them was a course entitled "Computer programming and Software Design". Half the damned textbook was how to use MS Office.

      Mmmm, favourite text editor - vi, emacs or Word?

    • Which idiot moderated that comment up? Smart people are bored to tears by dumb people. The PP presentation is fully optional.

    • by SStrungis ( 629260 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:06AM (#7716296)

      I am one of those educators that does teach PowerPoint. I was forced. I used to teach a Multimedia course that was actually fun. We used Hyperstudio as a base, and I had the time to teach them a little Photoshop, Illustrator, and SoundEdit when they needed those tools to make things better.

      Then middle management came along and decreed that Thou Shalt use PowerPoint as it is what the Real World uses. They also decreed that I would integrate presentation topics with the academic teacher's classes to inject a little "reality" into my eighth grader's lives.

      Now I have to teach wretched PowerPoint and the presentations generally bore me to tears. Plus with MM looking at me all the time I cannot have any fun anymore with other software. There is no time. Lately I have jazzed it up a lot, and the students have gotten better through the use of note cards, but PP still sucks.

      I am trying really hard to drive home the important points of presentations, but stupid things like Word f'n Art get in the way.


    • by bishiraver ( 707931 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:08AM (#7716309) Homepage
      What scares me is that the schools are actually teaching and using PowerPoint!

      I just got finished with a CIS110 class (it has bored me to tears; the lab instructor spent two weeks instructing us on how to copy files and create folders in windows). The only reason I'm taking this class is because it is a prerequisit for high performance computing (which involves clustering *nix boxes and such).

      The last unit in the lab section of the course was power point. Our project was to compare the pros and cons of different websites on the same subject, create a power point presentation, and present it to the class. I was appalled at not only how many people had absolutely ugly and overly complicated slides, but also how many people missed the entire point of the presentation - half the class simply did a little this-is-a-little-about-my-subject presentation, citing a few websites on the last slide. Not only that, but several people stood up there, facing the projector's screen, reading word for word the slides they had written.

      It is not my conclusion that powerpoint makes people dumb; it is my conclusion that people are dumb, and giving them powerpoint is like giving a blind man paintbrushes or a digital camera.
  • by questamor ( 653018 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:54AM (#7715546)
    I worked in a print shop a few years ago, and people would bring in large .ppt documents to print

    not as slides, mind, but they'd laid out BOOKS in powerpoint. Yes, blue shaded background in landscape mode and all, with large yellow text, they'd write a small booklet in powerpoint and come to us to have it printed in a professional looking booklet.

    Of course they didn't want it to look like it did onscreen, they wanted it to look like any other novels.

    Upper management were the worst, when they worked on something themselves, and would bring in a .ppt slide to be printed as a poster.

    An embedded 72dpi powerpoint image does NOT scale up well at all to an A1 poster.

    All other app users, from Quark XPress, pagemaker, acrobat, word, whatever... they knew what to expect and how to (generally) lay out a document, and when we'd have to do adjustments, they'd be relatively minor, but powerpoint people were bottom of the barrel.

    Except for the guy who laid out all his print jobs in Frontpage. I think he was on acid.
  • by DeepDarkSky ( 111382 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @08:57AM (#7715553)
    It is not the tool that makes people dumb, it is the people using the tool.

    Hey, remember this one? "Guns don't kill people, people do".

    Why do people insist on blaming the tool instead of the people who wield them?

    Perhaps (and this is where I betray my bias against sales people), it is sales people who started using Powerpoint in simple gloss-over-all-details-in-a-strategy-to-confuse-an d-misinform strategies that started the whole problem?

    This is the same problem when people start blaming Windows for every little problem, some of which, of course are well deserved, but it merely shifts the blame from proper responsible network/system administration to the product itself.

    Or is it that Microsoft is evil because it is hellbent on creating these simpler tools that don't do enough to prevent people from doing stupid things with them? Or is it that because the tools are easy to use it attracts stupid people to use them instead of using another set of tools that are harder to use and therefore requires more thought and effort?

    Quite frankly, it's not just Powerpoint, it could have been any other slideshow presentation program. That Powerpoint is the most commonly used slideshow presentation program made by the evil Microsoft makes it an easy target.

    If the proper information was not communicated by the slides, maybe, just MAYBE the people who created them are to blame? Maybe?

  • Did anyone get it? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by daraknor ( 732220 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:04AM (#7715568)
    All of the replies I've read so far seem to miss the point of the article (that they may or may not have read). Briefly stated, by only allowing a mimimal amount of data with only one obvious conclusion, presentations are skipping the analytical process.

    Let's say a presentation was done about shipping lanes in the pacific ocean. There are millions of combinations of potential routes, but all routes are essentially 'dumbed down' to either arrows or circles. The presenter's opinion is the only one that will fit on screen and the presentation must be tailored to whatever conclusion the presenter has made. PowerPoint is the method of getting an audience to agree with obvious solutions - because when you only have a single piece of data on the screen, that is the only conclusion you can make.

    I don't think that the method of using a projector and presentations is to blame. I think the problem is we can't fit any real statistics, design or model schematics onto the presentation in a viewable format. What if the web was 320x 240 resolution, with a next button at the bottom of each page?

    I think we need to start using UML in presentations. Universal Markup Language is able to model any data or action flow in a way that is readily apparent to most people. There are some specific features that take a bit of training (inheritance or reference) when discussing code, but it is always more comprehensible than one arrow pointing to a box. I may get flamed for the last comment, but realize that I actually mean "you comprehend the data" instead of you "saw a box and remembered it"

    I agree. PowerPoint makes us dumb because it disallows independent evaluation, thought, logical processes and retention of information or assessment related data.
    • by dunstan ( 97493 ) < minus berry> on Monday December 15, 2003 @11:43AM (#7724820) Homepage
      My 11 year old son came home from school with an assignment to put together a short presentation on the subject of refugees. I sat down with him and started discussing the points he wanted to make ... about how to tell genuine refugees from economic migrants, the flow of refugees over the years, about how groups of refugees over the years have helped shape our society, and we started taking notes into an emacs buffer to marshall ideas

      He ran off to his mother saying "I'm meant to be making a powerpoint presentation, and Dad won't help me", whereupon his mother came and took over - as I stormed out of the room I heard the words "now what font would you like it to be in" ...

      Me, I can't present to an audience without interacting, and I can't interact with Powerpoint/Magicpoint, so while there may be some prepared content on acetate/PP, a board with pens is a must.

      Powerpoint/Magicpoint may well be OK for persuasive presentations - e.g. sales pitches - but is a hopeless means of presenting analysis and explanation. If people need to read an article by information theorist Edward Tufte to work this out, we're in trouble.

  • This criticism applies to any slide show, performed with software or without. Just because MIcrosoft have produced a popular and highly selling slideshow program is no reason to single them out.
  • I did PowerPoint and Persuasion presentations for Joint Intelligence for four years, if what I saw on a daily basis there is any indication of the "skill" of the regular user, a lot of people need help!

    The average user does not know how to make effective graphics, and even when they are assisted by someone who does, they tend to ignore their advice. some of the bigger mistakes I saw were:

    A briefer handed me message traffic and said "make slides of these". I told him he had to summarize the traffic inot

  • Wha? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:08AM (#7715580) Homepage
    If I've had a good idea of how to present something, I haven't been stopped by Powerpoint yet. The reason 98% of all presentations look crappy is because a) The maker don't know how to make a good presentation or b) The maker doesn't know the subject well enough to make a good presentation. Then again, the default "Click here to add text" don't exactly help either.

    The key is to have figures. Good figures, not the first piechart you found in Excel. Figures should explain things that'd be difficult to put down in words. If not, key points. Never ever put the full text on the slide. If you're going to send it out, make a PDF of the full text instead. In general, forget animations. Please. Unless it significantly adds to the clarity, not the "I know powerpoint"-l33tness.

    The best rule is KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. And yes, I've stood in front of a consulting firm and presented our thesis work to them (long story, but kinda cool that the consultants consult us ;). And if you know consulting firms, when they felt we managed to do a very good presentation, I think we did something right...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:09AM (#7715583)
    In IT everyone is happy about presentations and slides and Powerpoint and stuff.

    But when *I* dare say, that all this blablabla stuff makes me a worse programmer because I don't like these neverending discussions and planning and opportunities to listen to execs who feel good by pulling their latest crap out their asses in front of me, here at slashdot I get modded down as someone who's unable to think/work in groups.

    I, personally, think groupwork is a innovation killer because innovation comes from controversial thinking and controversial thinking is discussed (sometimes with the colourful-buzzy-buzz help of Powerpoint) in groups until it's gone(!)

    However, I sence that IT is fucked up by to much talk anyways. And I dare say that this blablabla-buzzy-buzz-talk is already influlencing my comments here. Buzz-IT has eaten me and shitten me out several times.

    Thank you?
  • After sitting through one too many PowerPoint presentations, in which the supplier actually spent fifteen minutes (out of a total of 90 or so) explaining the organigram of his company to an audience that had been stunned into sleep by boredom and darkness, I came to the decision that PowerPoint was actually harmful and it has now been banned in our company.

    Basically, our rule is to use the screen for pictures and images, but not text. If the speaker wants bulleted notes, fine. But the audience has to wat
  • by rcastro0 ( 241450 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:10AM (#7715588) Homepage
    Tufte's thesis is expressed as:
    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.
    One thing I am trying to understand is... slideware reduces the analytical quality of presentations as compared to what ? Let me see some alternatives:

    1) Oral presentations with no slide back-up.
    This can only be worse, unless using powerpoint the presenter sees his job as "orally supporting a visual presentation", instead of the other way around. I mean, no matter how bad graphical data is, it must be better than no data at all. Plus having a slide behind the presenter can help one look back at the sequence of thought, and appreciate how many angles were explored.

    2) Presentation of a full, dense and well structured textual report.
    Such a thing was made to read, and perhaps talked about, not be presented. To use it raw in a public forum would require IMHO that either everyone reads the report before coming in, or that the presenter shows the conclusions and tells everyone "trust me, I have 250 pages of 10-point print to back it up".

    Reminds me of the old Churchill saying about Democracy: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried."
    • You're asking the right question.

      And you've got the right answer. It's 2. Some things are too complicated to push into a couple of dozen slides. Some things do have to be actually studied before you can make good decisions. You might want to give a half-hour talk to a group to tell them what they have to study and what they have to decide, and Powerpoint or equivalent is a great help to that, but you can't say that keeping the space shuttle in the sky isn't rocket science. You give them maybe twenty p

  • by Lonath ( 249354 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:12AM (#7715597)
    • Tool
    • Use Correctly
    • Knowledge
    • Audience

    Part of Whole
    • Text
    • Graphics
    • Verbal
    • Handouts
    • Followup

    Proper Use
    • Overview
    • Review
    • Preview
    • !In-Depth

    • Tool
    • Component
    • Condensed
    • Followup

    I think I've made myself clear.

  • by Peter Van Roy ( 583383 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:14AM (#7715604)
    Tufte has come a long way from being a pure scientist: you have to pay $7 to get his 28 page essay on PowerPoint. Isn't scientific information usually published in journals or conference proceedings, for a nominal fee? Aren't papers usually put on the Web for free?

    Usually, science advances best when information can be exchanged freely. Tufte seems to have forgotten this.

  • If the results of the study were available in PowerPoint?
  • by Uggy ( 99326 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:16AM (#7715609) Homepage
    What if Abe had use Powerpoint to "present" the Gettysburg Address []?
  • by An Anonymous Hero ( 443895 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:17AM (#7715614)
    Tufte's analysis quoted by the NYT is in Chapter 7 of the CAIB report [].

    For a concise summary see also here [] ;-)

  • by davejenkins ( 99111 ) <> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:19AM (#7715620) Homepage
    I work in Tokyo, Seoul, and Hong Kong, and I have noticed an interesting trend: Asians (especially Japanese) pack their presentations with enourmous amounts of text, and very convoluted diagrams. In meetings, Asians tend to read through these laboriously heavy presentations, and the audience usually sleeps.

    I have made presentations here and there for my Japanese and Korean audiences, and I have often been complimented afterwards on the brevity, clarity, and "to the point" quality of my slides.

    I fully agree that presentations should not become policy, nor should they be treated as written documents-- sides are only there to outline and organize a verbal conversation and presentation.

    On the other hand, Asians are amazed that I actually prepare 4-5 page (single-spaced) reports to accompany my presentations (I assume because they thought I would try to pack all that text into my presentation and then read it to them).
  • We call it... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JetScootr ( 319545 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:23AM (#7715629) Journal
    "Electropolitical Engineering". I can put together a ppt for management at work and pursuade them of most any point I want to. I always feel dishonest doing this, but it's the culture (Like the CAIB report describes). The presentations I am most ashamed of are those where I was forced to do this, because some PHB had sold upper PHBs on a completely idiotic scheme. The problem is, as has been pointed out, it's not PowerPoint it's PHBs. I have wondered if the two terms overlap in more than mnemonic ways....
    • At the bottom of the article trashing powerpoint (at least when I'm reading it) is an ad for:
      "Microsoft 2003 Powerpoint. New Powerpoint 2003 Helps you create and present presentations. www Office Microsoft com"
  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:26AM (#7715636) Homepage Journal
    I remember one time around 1995 when my new boss called me in to her office.

    She: we're going to run the company Christmas party.

    Me: OK.

    She: And we're all giving Powerpoint presentations during the party.

    Me: What!!??

    She: You're going to give a presentation on why we're going to take away everyone's Macs and make them use Windows.

    Her presentation was truly horrible; she printed out speaker's notes and handed them out in advance, then read the word for word. You could almost hear the snap-crackle-pop of brain cells commiting apoptosis throughout the room. I actually had a pretty good response. I didn't give my presentation out (so that resistance couldn't be prepared) and I worked hard to keep the audience off balance by taking the flow of topics in unexpected directions and driving my point home with humor (home-made and specifically targetted cartoons, ironic examples). Basically, I had to keep them laughing before they could take out their knives and carve me into fish bait.

    The main thing I learned from this is that Powerpoint presentations are not dissertations. They really just props that are used in verbal communication.

    You have to plan your talk, use the presentation to keep it on track and provide examples to back your talk up. If you have to resort wacky text animations to try to hold people's attention you're lost. I use simple color schemes, usually just black and white, and only ever use two build styles: build point by point and occasionaly appear all at once to vary the pace. In an effective presentation, you must make your audience focus on you, your ideas, your body language, where you want to take them. Trying to understand an effective presentation by looking at the powerpoint is like trying to infer the plot of a Shakespeare play by looking at the scenery.

    If you want to create a complete, self contained package of ideas, a slide show is not what you want. You want to create a white paper.

    Powerpoint is very useful as an aid; I try to be prepared to give the talk even if the projector is broken. The biggest problem with PowerPoint presentations I see is that people don't use them this way. They try to shoehorn more information into them than can effectively fit. The point at which people's brain cells begin to die is well before the point where you can put enough information into them to persuade or inform them. Used as the primary focus of a presentation, they do make people functionally stupid, by reducing their engagement in the topic, shoving a simplistic representation of reality down their throats.

    Of course, for some managers it's an effective crutch. They really have a simplistic view of the world that pretty much is summed up by what you can fit in a Powerpoint presentation. They dress it up with animations and fancy backgrounds. There's also an element of cowardice. Peopel are afraid of public speaking, so they'd rather have their audience looking at the handout or the projection screen than at them. That's why Powerpoints are so boring. An effective public presentation is like a high-wire act. You don't expect the performer to fall, but the possibility keeps your attention riveted.

  • Seriously, for a site with a population of folk who think they're smart - an awful lot of bullshit gets spouted.

    From all the people who think powerpoint is evil, get a grip. I want to give BRIEFing to people on a topic. Powerpoint does the job admirably since it's easier to use for text than paint-shop.

    I can also then send on the Powerpoint slides to people so they have a bite size summary they can double check information on.

    Bad workmen blame the tools.
  • It depends (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ElGanzoLoco ( 642888 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:31AM (#7715651) Homepage
    ... It depends who uses powerpoint. I'm in a school where most of our work has to be presented to the rest of the class, in 10 / 20 minutes usually. Most people still don't use Powerpoint (a Good Thing (tm) I think, forces us to actually listen to our classmates instead of just looking at the pretty pictures).

    There is one particular jerk (that I can't stand by the way) who insists on doing ALL his presentations on powerpoint, even the 3-minutes summaries. Shitloads of text, colors, graphs, quotes, transitions, etc... At the end of the show, you are still wondering what was the point. (+ his laptop seems to be misconfigured, and each time he has to fight for 10 minutes to get the damn projector to work. Hilarious)

    But one of my teachers used only Powerpoint slides, all year long; he couldn't make himself clearer, and those presentations were excellent.

    The USER is to blame, not the software. Still, because powerpoint presentations still have the "new-cool-wow-shiny" factor playing in their favor, some teachers are impressed by mediocre presentations, giving marks way above what they should be. ( Why, yes, that's why I'm getting an iBook + Keynote for next year ;-) )

    • Re:It depends (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Alomex ( 148003 )
      But one of my teachers used only Powerpoint slides, all year long; he couldn't make himself clearer, and those presentations were excellent.

      Over my lifetime I've seen academic presentations move from the blackboard to slides to powerpoint/keynote. The average presentation in the field (a) has no bell and whistles (default background, no special transition effects) and (b) is much more comprehensible than the average blackboard/slide presentation of a few years back.

      Powerpoint forces the speaker to decon
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:31AM (#7715652) not the fact of the meek not knowing anymore the difference between a brandname of a monopolist ("Powerpoint") and the type of a computerprogramm ("Presentation Programm"), since that in a twisted way in the context of this article can get people convinced that a Microsoft Product makes you dumb and that you should consider using plain text or classic HTML once in a while.
    What really pisses me of is the fact that obviously the slashdot crowd uses this monopolists brandname as a synonym for Presentation Programm aswell, without even noticing it. Even though people should know that Powerpoint isn't and never was the best presentation programm.

    Then again, we ought to remember that in the US comanies can actually lose their exclusive brandname rights when their product has become synonym for the rest of that product class. Wouldn't that be the case with Powerpoint by now? Any details on this law from US citizens?
    • This confusion between the type of product and the brand of the product is exactly what Microsoft wants. That's why their flagship products have names like "Windows" for a windowing GUI and "Access" for a database access tool and "Word" for a word processor and "Flight Simulator" for a flight simulator... . If they wanted their brands of the products to stand alone, they'd use non-descriptive words, or make up their own, like "Ford" for cars, "Apple" for computers, "Jimmy Dean" for sausage, etc.
      The reason
  • by Pathetic Coward ( 33033 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:33AM (#7715657)
    It's just text. Where are the PowerPoint slides?
  • Chicken, or Egg? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LazloToth ( 623604 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:45AM (#7715677)

    Is it that PowerPoint makes us stupid, or that only the stupid use PowerPoint?

    The answer, as usual, lies between - - it's that the tool provides an outlet for the stupidity that lies within us all.

    Some of us, aware that we live in a Dilbertesque world, shake our heads sadly at the spectacle of a comrade droning through the narration of their cookie-cutter presentation, hunched over their laptop in the back corner of the room while the rest of us try valiantly to stay awake in the dimly lit conference room. After it's over, a still-conscious VP nudges the CEO to let him know that it's time to move to the next agenda item. The CEO nods, says "thank-you for that, uh, insightful look at blah-blah-blah," and the presenter wonders whether she's on step closer to the executive suite.
  • by Photo_Nut ( 676334 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:56AM (#7715706)
    So all that Tufte really says in his pamphlet is that most people really can't put together a presentation if their life depended on it, but then their boss gives them PowerPoint, and suddenly they think they have a holy grail.

    Regardless of how much information you construct in your charts, displaying it on a XGA (1024x768) projector will ruin it. Don't blame the medium for the faults that really should be blamed on the information gatherer / analyzer / organizer.

    If you print out those presentations at 300DPI, then you can fit a lot of information on them. Somehow, people always forget that bulleted slides used to come with handouts chock full of the data the slides referred to.

    As for the Columbia tradgedy, blaming the death of our nation's explorers on software to produces presentations instead of the incompetance of the people using it to perform their job is irresponsible. If those engineers couldn't communicate, NASA should have spent the money required to train them better.

    Tufte has his own reasons for publishing his material. He believes that there is an optimal way to organize data. You can follow his methods without burning PowerPoint... You just have to organize what you are presenting, and determine how to best present it before you even launch PowerPoint.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much time it saves to take a few sheets of paper and a pencil and work out what the important message you are trying to deliver is before you write your presentation to deliver it. Just like with writing software, planning is the most time-saving step.

    It helps to know where you are going before you get on the highway.
  • by t_allardyce ( 48447 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @09:59AM (#7715713) Journal
    • The problem is that people either use terrible templates
    • Or they try and design it themselves thinking they are good designers
    • Then there are bullet points that have no purpose
    • and really annoying effects

    • People dont use enough graphics to explain things
    • just clip-art of people shaking hands
    • A good model broken up into layers/parts can explain allot more than text

    • dont even get me started on 3D text!!!
    • OpenOffice Impress can do much better frame based/morphing animation - ie you can show a graph changing shape in response to a decision
    • The End
  • by calyphus ( 646665 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @10:36AM (#7716014) Journal
    The real problem with PPT is that it's a crutch for people who don't know how to present information. A presenation should have two components, at least: the speech, or text, and the visual data. The visual data should illuminate ideas and expand on data.

    Consider a news article that has a few accompanying images or a chart. The visuals are a very small part, perhaps 5%. The text contains the information.

    Steve Jobs is an excellent of a presenter who knows that the slide show is just the show behind him. He will put up a slide with a single word on it, and then speak about that for five minutes. The slideshow isn't the important thing, it's a very minor component. Or, consider Jack Ryan's presentation in Hunt for Red October.

    "A picture is worth a thousand words" should be understood as 'A picture needs a thousand words.'

    Unfortunately, too many presenters have gotten it backwards. They try to put all their ideas on screen, relying on the visuals to speak for them. And then they learn that they have to reduce the information on-screen (word-wise at least), but they don't learn to shift the extracted information to their mouth (or accompanying texts).

  • by penguin7of9 ( 697383 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @11:19AM (#7716407)
    Tufte claimed that Microsoft's ubiquitous software forces people to mutilate data beyond comprehension. For example, the low resolution of a PowerPoint slide means that it usually contains only about 40 words, or barely eight seconds of reading.

    The purpose of the bullet items is to serve as a rough roadmap for the listener and to help the speaker not lose his thread; it is not to let the listener read what the speaker is saying anyway. And, of course, presentations don't just consist of bullet items, they also contain graphs, diagrams, and photos.

    Yes, strange as that may seem, you are supposed to listen during a presentation. In fact, if you listen carefully and the talk is at all reasonable, you should be able to ignore the bullet items altogether. But if you doze off for a moment, then the bullet items will help you orient yourself again.

    Frankly, I think this beats the alternative of the traditional presentation, which would have someone stand at a podium with no visual aids and reading from a prepared manuscript.
  • by abbamouse ( 469716 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @12:52PM (#7717335) Homepage
    I'll go ahead and stick up for PowerPoint. As a university instructor, I use plenty of interactive stuff like simulation exercises and group discussions. Nevertheless, sometimes a lecture is the way to go, particularly when dealing with a complex and unfamiliar body of material.

    What is the alternative to PowerPoint (or other slide-show programs) in academia? Hmmm... I remember chalkboard lectures that were hard to read (and I know my handwriting is awful) and often a confusing mess of arrows, half-erased comments, and lists without bullet points to mazke it clear when each item begins. Then there was the time involved in writing the material on the chalkboard/whiteboard and the annoying frequency with with the lecturer (myself included) would talk while writing, thus addressing his/her comments to the board instead of the class.

    Then there were overheads. These lost the spontaneity of chalkboard comments, but dramatically improved legibility. Unfortunately, they were also (usually) monochrome -- even when I printed color overheads, I had to be careful since I was paying for my own color ink. Moreover, they lost the ability to change a diagram easily, adding and removing elements to illustrate one's point. Finally, they made it difficult to integrate video or animation, since the overhead projector was likely to be in the way of the film projector or TV.

    Enter PowerPoint. Now I have the ability to include video, so when I talk about patterns of voting, I can play campaign commercials that sought to appeal to particular blocs of voters. Saying the economy matters is one thing. Putting up a graph comparing economic performance to vote share in elections is better (but can be confusing without color). Doing both and then watching Reagan's Morning in America [] ads is best. Powerpoint makes it simpler (though not exactly easy, given its hostility to non-Microsoft video formats) to do this sort of thing.

    I disagree with many suggestions made by other comments. My advice:

    1. Use color, but try to use style as well and don't rely on red/green differences. Remember, 10% of males in your audience are color-blind.

    2. Use text, but not more than six or seven words per subpoint. This is enough to communicate just about any conclusion, and then further subpoints can walk through each element of your argument if needed.

    3. Never use anything less than 14 points, preferably at least 18. People in the back of the room and people with less-than-perfect vision need to be able to see.

    4. DO NOT MEMORIZE YOUR TALK! I coached speech and debate for years, and while the formal memorized speech has its place, that place is almost never in the type of presentation where you'll be using PowerPoint. Practice your speech until you have an extemporaneous but fairly efficient style.

    5. Writing your points is the easy part. Decorating then with visual geegaws is only moderately more taxing. The really hard part is coming up with a real-world example of what your talking about. Once you have the example, use PowerPoint to communicate it with some amount of pizazz. After all, you don't need your audience to remember the particulars of the example (so little text is neeeded); rather, you want them to understand the meaning of whatever point they just wrote down. This is the place for audiovisual dazzle, not your main points...

    6. Don't let the flash distract from your points. The key is to follow rule # 5 for examples, but to keep the points themselves distinct and consistent. Don't mix the visual style with which you present text. Don't use distracting animation for anything you want the audience to copy down.

    7. Get to the room early and TEST YOUR PRESENTATION on the available equipment. Perhaps the fonts and software on the presentation machine are different from your own. Perhaps the equipment isn't working (see # 8). Perhaps the resolution of the scre
  • by jinx90277 ( 517785 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:58PM (#7718431)
    ...not PowerPoint itself.

    I have taken several presentation classes, and agree wholeheartedly with much of the advice given by the other posters: structure your information logically, use graphics whenever possible, limit the number of words per page, and avoid distracting graphical gimmicks. When you follow those guidelines and spend the time practicing your verbal style, you get good results giving your talk to the audience. However, the real problem lies with how PowerPoint is actually used in business -- namely, as a form of documentation, not merely as a visual aid.

    As a case in point, I recently had to give a technical brief at the end of a program to the customer and my management. The problem was that although several members of senior management considered the briefing important enough to ask to be invited...none of them actually showed up! Of course, they wanted a copy of the presentation so they could read it at a later point. If I had constructed the presentation according to the guidelines mentioned above -- minimal text, etc. -- they would have gotten almost no information from it at all. So, anticipating this outcome, I did my best to use as many graphics as I could, but also included enough short statements so that someone could follow the outline of the talk I actually gave that day.

    Personally, I think this situation is endemic in engineering. I have seen presentations circulated for years because they contained information which was never documented anywhere else. Although it would be far preferable to construct proper notes or white papers to go along with every presentation, I don't know of any managers who are willing to spend the extra money on putting together those artifacts -- or, for that matter, any engineers who have the spare time to craft them on their own. The best solution would be to record and archive the actual talk itself and pass those files around instead of the slides...but I think we have a long way to go before the verbal content is seen as the truly important element in a presentation, as it ought to be.

  • by neilmjoh ( 156292 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @03:14PM (#7718559) Homepage

    Scott McNealy's Take on Power Point [] (it is a PDF document)

    McNealy famously decalred to the San Jose Mercury, 3 August 1997, "We had 12.9 Gigbytes of PowerPoint slides on our network. And I thought 'What a huge waste of corporate productivity'. So we banned it". ...

    McNealy's much cheaper, and more productive solution, was to remove PowerPoint and to "give everybody plastic Mylar sheets and all the pens they need to scribble on them", and to use what he describes as "the Bill Joy font. You can see where he licked his thumb and erases. It's so much faster," and leaves you time to get on with the job.
  • by Polyhazard ( 730570 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @03:39PM (#7718766)
    I'm a student at Colorado State University, and one thing I have noticed is that so many of the Freshman level courses use Powerpoint for notes that once people get into upper-division classes they have no idea how to take notes for themselves.

    Most of the time, people spend thier entire class period copying down everything on the screen, and don't pay any attention to what the instructor is saying. They have a bunch of disconnected facts to read later, but no context.

    In classes where the instructor chooses not to use Powerpoints, fellow students are constantly complaining that they don't know what to write. Their ability to learn by listening is shot.
  • by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @05:08PM (#7719419)
    Powerpoint does not make people, or presentations, stupid. It just makes it too easy for stupid people to put a bad presentation together. In my last job, we put together excellent presentations by doing them the old-fashioned way-a big team, lots of writing and editing, and numerous preparatory presentations. I've seen other people pull this off pretty well, and even know someone whose job mostly involves doing excellent Powerpoint presentations instead of letting someone do bad ones.

    Laziness is the real problem with Powerpoint. Any idiot can toss a presentation together in five minutes, add in a nice theme, and then spend another ten minutes on effects.

    Worst of all is that some colleges are now implementing department-wide Powerpoint slides to go with lectures instead of letting professors just handle it themselves. I was in a programming class that started off really well, because the projector was broken and the professor used the blackboard. A month in the projector got fixed and the slides went up, within two weeks half the class dropped.
  • Wrong direction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrWa ( 144753 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @06:32PM (#7720104) Homepage
    Powerpoint, as a presentation software, is not horrible. The problem - which Tufte points out - is that people use the templates to help them put what little information they have into a presentation. Even worse, they may try to fit the good information they have into the minimal amount of space that the slides allow.

    The bullet list is a good way to summarize and highlight data. The problem is that people have become used to putting ALL of the data into bullet lists. This leads to arbitrarily cutting statements short, or leaving them out entirely, to fit into the format and space that Powerpoint provides.

    This is why Powerpoint makes you dumb.

    It also seems to make the people looking at them dumb. I know that I sometimes come out of meetings feeling dumber for the experience.

    Tufte is focused very much on data density. I was at the presentation last week and noticed that many people there are webdesigners. The point that Tufte is really trying to make is often lost: that higher density media - like paper! - is better at presenting data than a computer screen or Powerpoint slide.

  • by Bugmaster ( 227959 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @07:43PM (#7720525) Homepage
    ...I beg to differ. It seems that the main problem NASA had was that
    When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle.
    If you don't know how to create a clear, meaningful visual aid, then no amount of software will help you. I have seen people who drew their slides by hand, with ink and paper, and they had so many bullet points and arrows that the paper was literally falling apart in places. I got a headache just by looking at it through my peripheral vision.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, the problem is not with PowerPoint -- it's with the people who use it. It would be tempting to say, "See, M$ makes you dumb, use OpenOffice", but in this case, the Evil Empire (tm) is not to blame.

Radioactive cats have 18 half-lives.