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The Problem With Powerpoint


Much used, and yet so much maligned. Poor Powerpoint. Latest in a long line of detractors is Evernote CEO Phil Libin who, at Le Web the other day, said that Powerpoint is a 'lot of what's wrong with the world today' and that Office software was partly to blame for making work 'unpleasant for many people'.

He has a biased view of-course. Libin is positioning Evernote (a tool I use but have promised myself more invested time in order to realise its full potential) as the productivity tool that can do it all. But I think he has a point in saying that the way in which Powerpoint is now used in most businesses has turned many meetings into pitches rather than discussions. 

It reminded me of Tom Fishburn's post about how Powerpoint (or the way in which it is used) has killed many an idea with mind-numbing, verbose presentations on the (incorrect) assumption that the more information that is contained in the presentation, the more convincing it will be. Tom quotes Steve Jobs who, on his return to Apple, said:

“I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking. People confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

And Tom also talks about a presentation he saw from Chris Bangle who led design at BMW, and whose slides had little more than a stick figure and a few words on them. Bangle said that presenting in this way forced him to really know what he was talking about, because he couldn’t hide behind a PowerPoint slide. Personally, I always try and use as little text on slides as possible, and never present the same presentation more than once, for the same reason.

I actually enjoy a well crafted narrative accompanied by compelling visual imagery (aka a good presentation) but I have a lot of sympathy with the argument that the problem lies not with the tool itself but with the way in which it is used. One of the benefits of prototyping, for example, is that a simple working prototype is a far more compelling way to communicate an idea (to a Board for example) than a dry Powperpoint deck. But the fact that misuse of the tool has become so embedded in so much of our business life means that it has become an entrenched behaviour that will take some shifting. Maybe the new generation of slick productivity apps that seem to be mushrooming around us might just be the tools to do that.

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