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.