My most recent column explained that PowerPoint is a highly ineffective tool, because the premise on which it's based--that displaying words and images while you're talking improves audience retention--is scientifically invalid.

Nevertheless, many readers commented that the problem isn't PowerPoint, it's how people use it. Because this is a common viewpoint, I thought it would be useful to answer some of those comments here.

Comment:

Terrible article! PowerPoint wasn't really an 80's tool to begin with, more like 00's by the time it really hit its stride. And printouts or pen and paper to take notes ... who does that anymore? Biggest problem with PPT is not the software but the users ie the presenters!

My Response:

Actually, PowerPoint was pretty darn popular by 1990. Like its cousins Word and Excel, PowerPoint's usage grew with the widespread adoption of the PC in business.

Anyway, the concept of presentation software is very 1980s because it turns people into talking heads with flashing screens behind them, like cheesy broadcast TV with images projected on greenscreen background.

Taking notes with pen and paper greatly increases audience retention, while the use of presentation software decreases it. So if you want to be forgettable, go ahead and throw up some slides.

Comment:

Any tool can be a frustrating problem and highly ineffective when one doesn't know how to use it. I haven't seen any "easy" presentation platforms that can do things that can't also be done easily in powerpoint WITH the same level of design flexibility. It has its place -- the problem isn't the tool but that most people don't have the skills or a natural skillset aligned with strategic design ... this is why marketing and business design are actual things.

My Response:

The problem isn't whether the tool is easy to use (although PowerPoint is the typical Microsoft pig's breakfast) but that the entire premise of presentation software--that words and images on the screen reinforce words being spoken--is fundamentally flawed.

Far from making your message more effective, presentation software forces the audience's brains to work overtime to make sense of what's being communicated. The audience might be bedazzled, but what you're saying isn't likely to stick.

Comment:

Don't blame PowerPoint, blame the people who overloaded content and spaghetti diagrams on one slide. Are you going to blame your cookware and kitchen tools if your food sucks?

The Response:

In this case, a different reader answered for me.

If you read the article, it says that reading the slides is more likely to promote retention than speaking to minimalist slides -- and everyone hates reading slides, so I'd submit that PowerPoint is inherently flawed as a medium.

Yup.

Comment:

People that complain about the use of PowerPoint have trash creativity skills when creating content to present their message. The tools in PowerPoint give creators unlimited ways to create amazing visually engaging presentations that help engage your audience.

My Response:

I'm pretty sure that you'll be more effective -- and communicate your message better -- if the audience connects with YOU, rather than something "amazing" on a screen.

Comment:

LMFAO. There are people who make 3 times my salary who don't even know how to use PowerPoint and insist on having everything printed. While it's nice to move on to the next tech, there are still people (a lot of them decision makers) who have no grasp of tech.

My Response:

People who've rejected PowerPoint include Jeff Bezos and Jack Dorsey. I'm not *entirely* convinced those two have "no grasp of tech." Maybe they've figured out something you haven't, which is that PowerPoint hinders, not helps, communication.

NOTE: In the near future, I'll be posting a column that provides the three smarter alternatives to PowerPoint. So stay tuned.

Published on: Jan 23, 2020
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