Tuesday, July 31, 2007

You better know PowerPoint to get into Chicago's MBA program

This article in the Washington Post describes how new students applying for a spot at the University of Chicago MBA program now have to submit a four slide presentation that is used as one of the final criteria for admission. The aim is to encourage creativity as an addition to the essays that are required. In the requirements posted online here, it says that the slides will be printed only, not viewed on a computer, and you can submit a Word document explaining your slides. If they are only going to print the slides, and not allow the applicant to deliver the slides, how much creativity and communications skills are they really going to see? The whole point of PowerPoint is not to be a page design program, but to create visuals that add to a live presentation. I think a better approach would be to allow the applicants to present their slides online or create a video of the presentation - that would really show creativity and communications skills. Tools to do so are readily available and would really allow applicants to be creative. My fear is that all Chicago's MBA program will receive are fancy looking documents that could have easily been done in Word anyways.


Blogger Linc said...

Dave, I would have to disagree with these 2 comments, "The whole point of PowerPoint is not to be a page design program, but to create visuals that add to a live presentation" and the comment, “how much creativity and communications skills are they really going to see?”

Concerning the first point, as a graphic designer, one of the problem I see with PowerPoint is the over reliance on templates and default layouts. Because PowerPoint is primarily created for non-designers everything on the slide is centrally located and designed for easy digestion. This creates competent but boring presentations. In other words it’s presentations for the masses. Regardless of the genius of one’s idea, it will be presented in a common format. As such content and form do not always compliment each other well.

The reason you probably don’t see PowerPoint as a page design program is because you rely heavily on the templates and layouts. These elements are the design components and as such they layout the page for you. If the default layouts did not exist, you would have to do the page layout (slide) yourself. Graphic artist who use PowerPoint often create their own layouts and designs just as they would in any other graphic program. Heck, I know people who have used PowerPoint to create double sided brochures (2 slides) layouts because they couldn’t figure out how to use the illustration programs designed for that purpose. Worked great for them!

Other graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, InDesign, Quark, etc. also contain templates so that the user can jump into a design without creating one from scratch. The difference between PowerPoint and these other programs is that PowerPoint is designed for the layperson and as such it places a heavy reliance on templates and default layouts for ease of use. However, it doesn’t mean that one can’t create their page layout and design in PowerPoint if they choose.

And this is clearly the case with PowerPoint 2007. If you have worked with this program you will notice a difference in the handling of the layouts and templates. More power is put back into the hands of the user. For graphic designer, this version of PowerPoint gives us palpitations because of all the great design/graphic tools at our disposal. Many special effects that would normally be done in other graphic programs can now be done in PowerPoint. A couple more tweaks here and there and a couple more options (perhaps in the next version) and it will an incredible powerhouse in slideware design.

As for the reason they probably asked for PowerPoint slides in print was to reduce the razzle-dazzle of Flash, animation and other potentially empty content. Holding something tangible in your hands means that you will be looking at the content longer than in a slide show and therefore have more time to spend analyzing the arguments. Reducing the presentation to 4 slides focuses on the idea and helps to prevent another common PowerPoint problem; style over substance.

A quote from the MBA article states, “Slides will be evaluated on the quality of content and ability to convey your ideas” indicates to me that both self-expression and the ability to express those ideas creatively (fresh perspective) are more important to them than competent manipulation of the defaults.

The Associated Press article you have linked on your site makes this statement, “The new requirement is partly an acknowledgment that Microsoft Corp.'s PowerPoint, along with similar but lesser-known programs, have become a ubiquitous tool in the business world.” This is probably very true; wherever they work, the students most likely will be using PowerPoint when presenting information. As such why not identify the dull and boring students at the beginning of the term and perhaps teach them to improve their presentation skills. Seems to me this a great opportunity for you to make a sales pitch to them on your website or book.

Your quote, “how much creativity and communications skills are they really going to see?” which is in part, reference to the 4 slide maximum, indicates to me that you probably have never taken a graphic design or a creative communication course. The whole point of those creative fields is to teach one how to maximize the message in the minimum of exposure. Compare a PowerPoint slide to a full-page magazine advertising (approximately the same size in inches) and you will see the difference between something designed to grab your attention and makes its point quickly as opposed to something that drones out its information. Or compare a PowerPoint slides to the billboard ads one often passes by; both of which you will see only for the briefest of time. Which will you remember and understand better?

To me the bottom line is, it’s not just “what you say”, but also “how you say it”. Style and substance need to work together. Thus I think the point of the 4 PowerPoint slides entrance component is to force the new MBA students, right at the beginning, to start thinking creatively: get to the point quickly, competently and make it interesting. A lesson that will serve them well in their future endeavors.

Always enjoy your newsletters
Linc Park

10:03 AM  

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