Saturday, March 27, 2010

Quick hit: Still grieving over my Jayhawks. But, K-State's deep run is making me feel 10% better. MU's loss also lifted my spirits a bit.

PowerPoint Purgatory

From the Parkville Luminary

You know you’re in trouble when the words program manager, logframes (whatever those are), wage plans, and milestone targets are uttered in the same sentence. I heard these words, and their meaningless cousins, repeatedly during a large group meeting that I recently attended. Now, this meeting could have been in Parkville or Pittsburg, but this one happened to be 8,500 miles away in Kampala, Uganda.

Whether they’re next door or halfway around the world, meetings are inherently boring, and can, like this one, often descend into a trough of dullness when they utilize my least favorite a/v tool.

Welcome to PowerPoint purgatory.

Since misery loves company, and I’m not clever enough to avoid using a cliché, you’ll be happy to learn that the scourge of the dull PowerPoint presentation has spread globally like H1N1.

For example, I once sat through a four hour PowerPoint, in Romanian, at a conference in Chisinau, Moldova. I believe I had an out-of-body experience during this presentation, although the only place my spirit traveled was a stall in the men’s room so it could hurl. Like I tell my son after he makes me sit through one his crappy horror films, I will die never having retrieved those lost hours.

The same can be said of PowerPoint presentations I’ve endured in Chinese, Georgian, and Portuguese. At least with these, I had an excuse for drifting off.

My global experience with large meetings of this type is that they are seldom productive, and are often convened for the sole purpose of justifying the existence of the management type who planned the whole thing. Here’s an idea—dispense with the meeting, and just send me a succinct memo instead.

Now, the people organizing the seminar I recently attended in Kampala were well meaning volunteers working to make Uganda a better place, and I salute them for that. Unfortunately though, like 97% of PowerPoints, the ones featured at this meeting were ill-conceived, dull, and ineffective.

At this meeting, they distributed handouts that showed what is on each PowerPoint slide, word for word. Whenever this happens, I want to grab the handouts and make my escape, since the presentation becomes superfluous. Just email me the slides, and save us both the trouble, I say.

As a college speech teacher (among other things), let me issue this challenge to all of you out there with an impending speech or presentation to give. First, shorten your presentation by half. Then, when you’re giving it, speak up, step out from behind the podium if you can, never read your comments verbatim, and stop using PowerPoint.

The fact is that most presenters use PowerPoint very poorly, turning their backs to the audience, for example, or filling a single slide with a novella. Then there’s the problem of showing 3,284 slides in a six minute presentation. Audio-visual materials are supposed to enhance and supplement your presentation, not replace it. And visuals should certainly never sever the connection between you and your audience, which PowerPoint seems to do quite well. So, drop PowerPoint cold turkey. You’ll be surprised with the results, beginning with the fact that your audience will be looking at you instead of the screen.

After this rant, you won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t use PowerPoint in my classroom at Park University. One incredulous student asked me, how can a communications professor not use PowerPoint? My response: I don’t use PowerPoint because I am a communications professor.

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