Thursday, March 31, 2011

I Hate PowerPoint

I hate PowerPoint presentations.

Part of the reason why, I suppose, is that when it comes to speeches and presentations, I’m a traditionalist. I prefer words, written and spoken. It’s today’s popular culture of visual communication, I’m something of a Neanderthal.

My lack of hipness notwithstanding, I also understand PowerPoint enough to know that very, very few people actually know how to use it effectively.

They don’t know, for example, that it was designed for charts and graphs. Not words.

They also don’t know that every study done on the subject demonstrates that the maximum number of words for an effective PowerPoint slide is – believe it or not – six. And that’s the maximum.

When was the last time you saw only six words on a PowerPoint slide?

We see a blank slide on our computer screen, and we immediately set ourselves to doing what we have the technical capabilities to do – we fill up that blank slide with words, charts, graphs, colors, photos, embedded videos, visual jokes and anything else we can cram on it. We make the slides so complicated that no one – including ourselves – can understand them.

But they look impressive.

If you’re in the audience listening to a speech or presentation, and the speaker is using PowerPoint slides, what do you look at – the speaker or the slides? (Answer: the slides – they’re usually better looking.) And if the speaker reads the slides, do you follow his or her voice, or do you let your eye race ahead to finish reading the words on the slide? (Answer: The eye is faster than the speaker’s voice.)

In fact, everyone might be a lot better off to forgo the speaker altogether and just slow the slides, perhaps with some appropriate Muzak playing as background.

Unfortunately for all concerned, the person of the speaker – body language, voice, personality, physcial appearance, clothes – is a major portion of any speech – some say well over half of the actual communication that happens. And in a PowerPoint presentation, all of that gets lost.

The slides overpower the speaker, and they overpower the message. Everyone forgets that often the most important thing you can do is leave a lot of whitespace on a slide. It provides emphasis and focus, not to mention needed rest from the presenters who never met a whitespace they didn’t immediately try to fill up.

The whitespace in our lives is like that. We have it, but we usually try to fill it up with activities and stuff. Yet that whitespace is the rest time, the thinking time, the quiet time that we need to let be quiet. It’s the time when God speaks most clearly, or when we’ve pushed away all the distractions we allow to invade our lives or we embrace in our lives so that we can hear God speaking clearly.

Whitespace can be simply sitting and reading from a familiar Bible passage, and discovering something you’ve never seen before. Or it can be just sitting. Or lying down. Or walking. Or riding a bike (I had to throw that in there). Taking a hike. Or even, as my wife will tell you, turning off the stupid BlackBerry.

We need whitespace. We crave it. And we can reclaim it.

We can also wage guerilla warfare against PowerPoint presentations. But that’s another post for another time.

To see more posts on whitespace and spiritual rest, please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista, who’s been hosting a blog carnival on rest during the month of March.

Photograph: Blank Monitor by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Unknown said...

Why, oh why do we try to fill that whitespace. I think it's discomfort. The more I practice, the more I like the whitespace all roomy :D

katdish said...

Love this analogy. Hate Power Point also.

Here's to more white space!

Kristine Lynette said...

It's so true. We fill up our selves with so much that we overpower the message. When you put it this way, making some time for whitespace makes so much sense.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

Excellent post. I cleaned out my home office. I sat in my recliner and instead of looking at all the stuff in there, I saw white space! It was beautiful, so relaxing. A place to rest my eyes. We must be quiet to hear God's voice and not try so hard to fill all the silences.

David Rupert said...

Here, here! for getting rid of PPT.

And also, love the analysis of WhiteSpace in our lives.

dunlizzie said...

Great post! We need whitespace. We crave it. And we can reclaim it. We absolutely need to reclaim it if we want to be more effective in the life God has called us to. Thanks so much for sharing :)

Lisa notes... said...

I would love to anonymously send this post to some very bad power point presenters I know. ;-) They put ALL their text on the screen, then read it to us, word by word. Arghhh!

Yes! You get it.

G. Page Singletary said...

I have been helping several clients re-message their sales pitch, and this has been a hot topic. Give me a good story teller and one or two compelling hand outs and I will win every time. From a business standpoint, it is more important than ever to simplify your message, as people will only remember one or two things max, especially with the overwhelming amount of information coming their way. From a daily living standpoint, we are all better off with purposeful white space in our lives. Great post.

Duane Scott said...


I agree! I agree! I agree!

I've had umpteenth college professors teach their entire semester with PowerPoint.

Sometimes I want to shout really loud at them.

But I don't, because I crave A's on my GPA. :)

Heather said...

Bravo! When I use PPT, I feel like it turns my students into consumers rather than participants. Maybe that's a good metaphor for how we approach our own life.

Kathleen Overby said...

Loverby took me for a walk down to the river Saturday. When the sky is blue here, it is vibrantly blue. We laid on our backs and watched clouds roll by....until we were satiated by the restorative properties of a wide 'margin'.

Is the soothing white space, the margin, why we love poetry?

Powerpoint has many forms, disguises, and wears many masks! Thanks for the beware sign. Seth Godin would be proud of this post!

Ryan Dueck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Last weekend I preached in a church where there was no PPT. It was the first time I had done so in nearly three years. It was wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Amen, and amen. :)

Anonymous said...

So true. What happened to the good old days without it?

Anonymous said...

Guerrilla warfare on there's a post I'm eager to see. And I must concur with this one on the whole; this ocming from someone who just graduated from college too, meaning for the past four years I've been seeing a heck of a lot of them.

Why people insist on greeting their viewers with powerpoints that amount to little more than walls of text I will never know...they've had to watch these things too. They should know they're not pretty.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Hurrah for the whitespace!

S. Etole said...

I'm all in favor of white space.

Anonymous said...

i would like to put together a ppoint of just photos to go along with a speakers words.

though i have never done a ppoint before...i am sure it would be fun for me to experiment.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
signed...bkm said...

Oh this one I can relate to these so much...did Power Points for years and still do when my husband needs a presentation for a sales meeting...they have their place and can be effective sometimes...but as you state...that whitespace or white board is what is needed for the mind to rest to meditate and spend some time with God and find balance in life without all bells and whistles....thank you...bkm

Unknown said...

What about a slide with a picture of you - the speaker - on it, reading the six words? :)

Glynn, were you ever in Toastmasters?

Marcus Goodyear said...

When I use powerpoint, I like to include the full text of my presentation so people can read along. Sometimes I call on audience members to read particular sentences while I take a sip of water or something.

I also like to embed audio files of myself reading the the text. Then I can just move from slide to slide and click "play" on each audio file.

People are always in awe of my mad digital skills.

Anonymous said...

Have you read/seen the work of Edward Tufte? He is a statistician and graphic artist who writes on the visual display of quantitative information, and has a few choice things to say about PowerPoint.

Sheryl said...

OK, so I know PowerPoint isn't really the point, but have you read Garr Reynold's Presentation Zen? He advocates the 6 words or less. I love his style of presenting and have started teaching it to the missionaries I work with.

As far as living white space . . . as much as I'd like to banish clutter, it finds me. I think it happens in my spiritual life, too. Clutter moves towards me.