Why Death by PowerPoint?

Throughout last week, I’ve been investigating on open source whiteboards. During this, I happened to do a lot of reading on presentations and happened to stumble upon the concept of death by PowerPoint. After a brief hunt, I was able to observe the amount of hue and cry made out of this issue (which I don’t blame). I was also able to observe a good number of my friends (online and offline), squirm at the mere mention of the word “PowerPoint”. We have seen and experienced the “how” of death by PowerPoint through our numerous bad experiences with terrible presentations. It’s high time we examine the “Why” of this issue.

In my opinion, the fault lies entirely with the presenter and not with the software. Some people have the notion that anything created with Flash, or some other rapid elearning tool,  can be extremely engaging. Although I appreciate the capabilities of these tools, I feel that the potential of PowerPoint is greatly understimated. Even the most advanced software can be used to create a miserable presentation. Hence it is entirely in the hands of the creator. We should hence look to correct our approach to the software. The software is a mere tool which gives us what we give it. If we feed it with nonsense, that’s precisely what we’ll get out of it.

This problem has another serious dimension when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Many teachers I’ve encountered favor the “traditional” approach to PowerPoint. When I asked them the reason for such an approach, one of them replied: “You have the boxes in PowerPoint, I just fill them up with pictures and text.” Basically, I don’t understand the logic behind calling this the “traditional approach.”  Rather than calling it traditional, it would be more appropriate to call it the “lazy approach.”

Another aspect that kills a PowerPoint presentation is the length. During my college days, I had the misfortune of attending a guest lecture by a doctor from a leading hospital in Chennai. His presentation was 165 slides long with 90% of it being bulleted text (about 10-12 points a slide)! The presentation (I would rather call it reading and skipping) went on for about a couple of hours and at the end of it, none of us had the clue of what hit us in those 120 minutes!

The concept of death by PowerPoint, in my opinion, can be zeroed down to two aspects:

  • Creativity
  • Presenter’s attitude

Presenters, more importantly teachers, must aspire to be more creative when it comes to developing content in PowerPoint. Before going on with a presentation, take a couple of minutes to think about the worst presentations which you have experienced and compare your creation with that.

A presentation by Karl Kapp, which can be seen here, has some excellent ideas for creating more engaging and useful content with PowerPoint.

PowerPoint slides are visual aids for the learners and not for the presenter!

Do you agree/disagree or have more points to add to what I’ve said, do leave your comment for this post.

Here is another interesting video on what not to do with PowerPoint:

Happy reading!


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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. very true da. this is why even while teaching the basics of computers we are taught that “garbage in = garbage out”and i guess most of us forget it and try using the most complicated softwares for the most simple things and blame them if we do not get what we want!

    • Agreed with that. I have seen some presentations which are so beautifully designed that it’s quite hard to believe that all of it was done with just the good old PowerPoint. Rapid elearning tools definitely makes things a lot easier and I do use them, but I’m still charmed by PowerPoint simply due to the fact that there is still a lot more to be explored in it for me, while the rapid elearning tools are more straightforward and easier to use.

  2. So agree death to slow death by PPP

  3. […] post: Why Death by PowerPoint? | Vytheeshwaran Vedagiri's Blog addthis_url = […]

  4. Fully agreed that Powerpoint has got a bad press in recent times – to the point where it has almost become a dirty word! By chance, I had a guest blog posted on getting the most out of powerpoint published online earlier today. Here’s the link: http://www.teachingvillage.org/2010/09/22/getting-the-most-out-of-power-point-by-david-dodgson/

    I’ve done a few workshops on it at my school as well as at a conference and the barrier I always face is that the teachers in attendance want a ‘how to…’ session whereas my plan is to get thme thinking about when to use Powerpoint to maximum effect and (most importantly) why it should be used. Actually, that’s very similar to dealing with those students in class who just want to learn grammar instead of focusing on using language to communicate.

    “It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it!”

    • I guess this problem can be attributed to the mass technophobia that we are facing today. The fear of experimenting with technology is the reason. I think it will be more correct to call it “death of PowerPoint” rather than “death by PowerPoint”.
      I liked your blog post very much. You have a good list of practical pointers there!
      I’m now experimenting on the PechaKucha concept for teaching and the initial results are promising. I am planning to make screencasts of the same and will share it on my blog in a couple of weeks. Do take a look at my post on PechaKucha and let me know your views.
      Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts!

  5. Great blog post and summary of your ideas on the subject! I couldn’t agree more with you.
    PowerPoint as a tool should definitely not be blamed for the lack of creativity – the laziness – of the presenter. (On a side note, Karl Kapp’s presentation is really interesting.)
    I believe Death by PowerPoint is an issue that transcends this specific software. It roots in the bigger issue which is how some people see technology. It’s as if just because it’s “technology”, it’s “better” and “modern” and “cool”. But as with anything, if you don’t know how to use it effectively, it’s just plain useless. PowerPoint presentations as many webpages are often just a simple copy of a paper version projected onto a screen. It’s not because it’s projected and bigger that it’s more fun, but some seems to believe so.
    People need to be educated to all the tools that are out there. Really know how to use them, what they are good for, instead of – perhaps – just using it because it has been sort of pushed forward. (It’s like recycling, people need to understand the impact it has on the environment and not do it only because you’d get a fine if they find paper in your garbage. – I like making comparisons…!)
    All in all, I agree with you, let us be creative with PowerPoint!

    Mai Anh Tran-Ho
    Community manager
    Virtual Museum of Canada – Teachers’ Center

    • Thanks for your comment! I like your comparisons and agree with them. Presenters just use the default features and this makes the output really annoying! I want to get rid of the outcast status of PowerPoint and want people to realize the potential of this tool.

  6. Loved reading ur blogpost on PPT! day in and out I am killed by PPTs that afre full of fire and fury but signify nothing as Shakespeare would say if he was alive! Recently while listening to 30 odd Principals making a pitch for a top post using a PPT presentation, one thing was clear. Most used it because it was the done thing not because it would help them present their case better. Its time we helped teachers use tech tools effectively… insted institutions seem to be chasing technology for technology sake!!

  7. I agree with what you said about PPT, any thing can be utilized as powerful, if you have flair and passion!

    Need is willing !

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