Friday, March 19, 2010

How does banning PowerPoint solve the problem?

Here is an article about a conference that has decided to ban PowerPoint presentations: http://www.embedded.com/columns/esdeuropeeic/224000026. Why the ban? The writer explains that by banning PowerPoint, it will solve the problem of poor presentations. Instead, the presenters will use flipcharts and whiteboards to help the audience understand their presentation.

So let me get this straight. Instead of trying to help the presenters use the tool properly, we’re going to ban the tool and force them to go back in time and use tools that have, for the most part, been replaced by much better alternatives. That’s just like banning word processing software and making everyone go back to using pen and paper. Or banning e-mail and making people send memos in triplicate again.

It reminds me of a company I spoke to recently. In one department, they decided that the way to solve the problems with the PowerPoint presentations was to buy everyone a Mac and use Keynote. In the misguided belief that Keynote can’t possibly produce poor presentations. I am guessing that they now have fancier transitions between their text laden slides. Did that solve the problem?

The tool is not the problem. It never has been the root of the problem. The issue is that presenters don’t get taught how to properly structure their presentation and develop visuals that add to what they want to say. Banning the tool is the easy way out. But what happens when the resulting presentations are no better because the root issue was never dealt with? Then the cycle of finding the next scapegoat continues on. And audiences suffer through more boring presentations.

Only when organizations realize that the tool is not the problem will anything useful be done. The tool can be used well if you are taught how to use it properly. Check out my articles, past newsletters, makeover videos and tons of other great advice from many other commentators. We’ll help you use PowerPoint to create persuasive, engaging presentations. It can be done.

8 Comments:

Blogger JTstag said...

Dave,

I'm just as stunned as you are. Most presentations that utilize PowerPoint are bad because the presenter has never been taught effective presentation design. With just a little bit of research and practice, PowerPoint presentations can be VASTLY improved, thus helping enhance their message.

This is only avoiding the problem. Might as well ask us not to drive in order to avoid car accidents.

Jon Thomas
Founder, Presentation Advisors

11:46 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I really liked this post. I've only recently seen the error of my ways when it comes to presentations and I agree that this is not the way to address the problem.

In fact, I agreed with your post so much that I couldn't help but write one of my own detailing the parallels between this issue and how IT workers handle emerging technologies.

Thanks for the great post,

DC

8:33 PM  
Blogger passenger57 said...

Death by flipchart would be just as painful......

6:37 PM  
Blogger Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Dave, I disagree.

Sure, that tool can be used well, but the problem comes when people never pick up another one. This will force them to try alternatives, and they will see that for some jobs those alternatives are better.

I'm amazed you say that slideware is "a better alternative". A whiteboard, chalkboard, flipchart, theatrical sketch, prop, song, or just my voice, face and body can be be better than slideware in many situations, either because it is more memorable, more interactive or more flexible. Slideware is better in some situations, but certainly not all.

Slideware (under any name) is a broadcast medium. But the function of a conference is communication, not broadcast.

This is not like banning email and making folks use a pen and paper; it is like saying "no mail today, walk over there and talk about it".

All the best,

Adam Lawrence
Work•Play•Experience blog

5:20 AM  
Blogger Dave Paradi said...

Adam,

Thanks for your perspective on the topic. Any good communicator will know, as you say, that different tools are best in different circumstances.

The problem with this situation is the assumption that by banning PowerPoint, it will naturally lead presenters to do what they should be doing in the first place: analyzing the audience, structuring their message, and deciding how visuals could enhance what they want to say. If the presenters aren’t doing that now, I don’t think we can assume that just by banning PowerPoint, they will magically “see the light”.

I can see the presenters writing out their talk in Word instead of PowerPoint and reading it to the audience, without ever giving a thought to how to properly use a flipchart or whiteboard. If they don’t know how to use visuals properly now, changing the tool isn’t going to help.

When using tools in home renovations, my experience is that when you see a buddy use a new tool or use one in a new way, you see how much more effective it could be. But just seeing the tool on the shelf at the hardware store doesn’t help you see how it could be used to save you time or get the job done better.

That’s why I think we need to educate presenters so they can see a better way. I don’t think we can assume they will see the better way just because we change the tools they can use. If they haven’t figured it out by now, chances are low that they will spontaneously “get it”.

Thanks

Dave

5:01 AM  
Blogger Richard I. Garber said...

Dave:

One surgical conference got better presentations by requiring prior submission of a manuscript. See: my blog post about the ASCRS

I agree that banning PowerPoint isn't the solution, because that isn't the problem.

Richard

9:36 AM  
Blogger Adam StJohn Lawrence. said...

Hi Dave,

thanks for the comeback.

I am sure that we will see mixed results, but at least people are forced to recognise that there is a problem, and some of them are going to improve. :)

All the best,

Adam

2:43 PM  
Blogger Samantha Nienow said...

Well said, Dave. Thanks for your thoughtful article. With so much hype on how bad the tool (PowerPoint) is, it's refreshing to have the discussion turn to the real problem--the lack of understanding what makes a good presentation.

I have a friend that's a professional photographer. She had a random person come up to her during a tradeshow to tell her that her camera took nice pictures. The camera is only the tool, of course. It's the professional taking the picture using the camera that is responsible for the great composition.

The same is true for PowerPoint, Keynote and Prezi. These are only tools.

11:42 PM  

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