H McKee Stewart Jr

Musings on Business, Finance, and Economcs.

Is Powerpoint Making Us Stupid?

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Or just allowing more of us to display our stupidity?

Every couple of years, a disaster strikes, and PowerPoint catches the blame. This year, it’s the war in Afghanistan. Next up, the BP disaster in the Gulf.

Edward “Powerpoint is Evil” Tufte has been beating PowerPoint like a rented mule for years; yet somehow, we’re still surprised to find that PowerPoint isn’t a very good tool for the presentation of complex information. PowerPoint does have it’s defenders, but like any powerful tool in the wrong hands, it’s relative ease of use contributes directly to bad results.

What is good for the presentation of complex information is detailed written reports. Unfortunately, that assumes that a) the person preparing the report can actually compile the data and write in a clear, concise, and meaningful way, b) the audience is capable of following a written, sustained argument, and c) people will actually read the thing. Good luck meeting that set of conditions.

So, is PowerPoint – through encouraging endless bulleted lists, meaningless graphs, and embedded video – making us dumber? Is it a plot by Bill Gates to rule the world? Or is it just an easy crutch for poor presenters – those folks who we are constantly told fear public speaking more than death itself?

A classic chicken or egg problem. Unfortunately, the combination of the limits of PowerPoint and poorly thought out presentations are working in tandem to achieve this end.

As in many cases, there’s no escaping Dilbert:

Dilbert.com

Dilbert.com

Dilbert.com

Update: Ha! At least I got here a day ahead of Farhad Manjoo of Slate. From my keyboard to conventional wisdom in a day.

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Written by hmstewartjr

4 May 2010 at 1:31 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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