I only recently came across Powerpointless, a thought-provoking BBC Radio 4 programme by Ian Sansom about the history and rise of PowerPoint.
The programme outlines why and how it has transformed business presentations. But it also suggests that its dominance shackles new ideas and hinders creativity.
I have to say, I couldn’t agree more.
We all use PowerPoint. We all rely on it, but is it time to acknowledge its limitations and look to more imaginative ways to present our ideas, thoughts and opinions?
PowerPoint is not so much an ice-breaker, but an ice-maker for most presenters. During those awkward few moments when you are fiddling with your laptop and trying to get the projector to work you lose your audience: and your presentation is often dead before you start.
And when you do get going you realise that all those lovely slides you’ve spent hours preparing are the one thing that dissolves eye contact with your audience and prevents you building any rapport with them, because they prefer to stare vacantly at the screen.
No matter how colourful and exciting a speaker you are, with PowerPoint you’ll become as beige and boring as the rest of us.
In fact, PowerPoint guarantees blandification.
Even if you ooze charisma and your talk sparkles with originality, your whole presentation will come across like…well…all the thousands of other PowerPoint presentations your audience has seen, heard and switched off from.
Of course PowerPoint is great at splitting things up and breaking them down into easily digestible bullet points. The problem is that we’ve all become great gunslingers at the PowerPoint corral…we treat every issue with a firestorm of bullets fired off in all directions.
Yet these bullets aren’t necessarily used selectively and appropriately. They present everything in short, staccato fashion to make instant impact and impression. Sometimes we don’t need to break everything down. Obvious points need to be simply stated. But more subtle or nuanced points need more explanation.
On the other hand, PowerPoint does, in a way, democratise information: all points and slides are treated equally and given equal status (their own slide). This is all well and good, but it makes it very hard for speakers and audiences to pick out the key points or main messages.
PowerPoint doesn’t necessarily kill creativity, but it does shackle our ability to think creatively. This is because it has the uncanny ability to give the impression that all ideas, issues and problems are the same. It just funnels or processes everything into the same structure, steamrolling and bulldozing what you want to say down that same old familiar route that we are all so bored with.
PowerPoint is ultimately a presentational zimmer frame. It has its uses. But it’s a crutch that we all cling to. It helps us crawl through our presentations, safe in the knowledge that we will get to the end without tripping up and collapsing on the floor. The problem is, though, that it immediately signals that you, the speaker, haven’t really tried. Time for rethink maybe?