February 22, 2010

On Misuse Of Powerpoint

If this isn't exactly right I don't know what else is. A good powerpoint presentation is the exact opposite of reading the slides out loud. Yet again and again I find myself in presentations where people do exactly that.  It's a reminder to me that Powerpoint, intended as an aid to presentations, is much more frequently used in what can seem like a conscious effort to obfuscate.

For instance, don't ever show anyone whose respect you want a slide that looks like the one to the left.  This is way too busy, way too much by way of graphics, and not nearly enough explanation to figure out what in the hell is going on.  A graphic image on a powerpoint slide should be simple, direct, pertinent, and not distracting.  And it should obey the Rule of Thirds -- the focus object within an image should take up about one-third of the total space being viewed; it should be centered along lines to which which the eye instinctively gravitates.  So give some thought to what, exactly, you want your audience to see because the combination of whatever it is that you're saying along with your visually sparse (and therefore beautiful) slide will drive that point home much more effectively than something so busy it causes retinal fatigue that will literally put your audience to sleep.

What's more, bad background and color choices can ensure that your audience is completely unable to read whatever it is that you wrote and intend to read out loud to them.  Take, for instance, the example to the right.  The varying cloud background might look pretty but when you're putting together a slide you need to be much more utilitarian than that -- the title of the slide is nearly invisible and the sentences are so long that they can't be useful for anything.  They certainly don't reinforce whatever point is being made by the presenter -- which, I presume, are the sentences themselves.

And, of course, while we're looking at crowded, unintelligible powerpoint slides, let's not forget that a really good way to make sure that your audience hasn't a f-ing clue what you're talking about is to offer them a slide that is so dense with fine-print text that they spend the entire time squinting at it trying to make out what's there and zero attention to what it is that you're saying.  Although I've picked two medical presentations slides, there is certainly no particular reason why lawyers, technies, stockbrokers, investment analysts, or anyone else could not fall into this trap -- it's another case of expertitis, in which one's expertise in a particular field becomes much greater than one's ability to communicate useful information about that expertise to someone who is not also an expert.

Don't be afraid of blank space.  Don't read your slides out loud; use them to underline a few key concepts and keep the focus on the speech you make.  The slides supplement the speech, not the other way around.

Hat tips for bad powerpoint slides to Tim's Blog, ThugMed, and Neurodiversity.  And of course to Dilbert for the comic.

1 comment:

zzi said...

If you think PowerPoint pres. are bad wait until you witness a Keynote pres. from someone who has too much time on their hands/