Saturday 19 March 2005

PowerPoint: Less is more

Shawn Callahan links us to the blog of US PowerPoint specialist (for want of a better word), Cliff Atkinson, who talks about using PowerPoint to create "a strong narrative backbone" to a presentation, rather than a death by PowerPoint experience.

There has been growing awareness over the years of the problems of what might be termed gross misuse of presentation software - for example Edward Tufte writing in Wired magazine and on ABC Radio (you'll need to scroll down). While poor presentation and information overload is bad enough, perhaps the bigger concern is the use of PowerPoint to force a viewpoint or validate an unsupported fact. In other words, because some people see it written on a PowerPoint slide they believe it to be true.

On the other hand (and I've talked before about what might be considered to be good information technology innovations) presentation software is also a great example of a user-empowering information technology (even if we suffer because of it!). Probably as they conclude on ABC Radio, just because the tool is misused doesn't mean we should abandon it altogether.

Personally I think Atkinson's advice to minimise what you put on a slide is good, but I think there are probably three good ways to use presentation software:

  1. For helping to organise ideas into a linear flow or story - but the resulting slidedeck is not necessarily presented (this can be done on your own or in a group);
  2. As a well considered presentation aid - just the right amount of information to help the presenter and the audience; and
  3. To create diagrams, simple multimedia animations or basic e-learning modules - there are better tools for doing this, but people who are familiar with presentation software can often easily put things together for themselves.
PS Did you know that Abraham Lincoln used PowerPoint as early as 1863? It was news to me :-)

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