At the invitation of a colleague, I spent this morning at an emergency management "summit". Unfortunately, as someone with aspirations of being a professional speaker, I have the tendency to not only listen to what is being said but how it is being said as well. The messages presented by the speakers were good and they seemed to be competent in their subject areas. However, in every case, they sadly diffused their message by misusing PowerPoint.
It was the classic "death by PowerPoint" syndrome. There were too many slides for the time alloted, too much information on slides, minuscule point sizes on the text - just about every mistake that you can make in a PowerPoint presentation, including reading the slides to the audience.
I might have shrugged it off, but this evening I received an email from my friend Hal Weston about a New York Times article called We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint. In the article, reporter Elisabeth Bumiller discusses how senior military leaders are becoming disenchanted with PowerPoint, finding that it, "stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making."
This is not a new idea. Many years ago I was fortunate to attend one of Edward Tufte's seminarson presenting data and information and he made the same observation about Power Point as well as presenting some very compelling evidence of how PowerPoint has led to some pretty spectacular failures. His essay The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within should be required reading for anyone thinking of using PowerPoint.
So what's my point? As a speaker, I use PowerPoint and there are certainly situations where it is both expected by the audience and useful in conveying themes. But PowerPoint does not convey data well nor does it help communicate complex situations or ideas. Used incorrectly, it can diffuse the impact of your presentation, something I found out the hard way recently when my slides were converted from PowerPoint 2007 to an early version and I failed to double check them before the presentation. So use PowerPoint sparingly, use it wisely, and remember that the audience came for you, not your slides!