Death by PowerPoint

I can’t believe I missed wishing PowerPoint a happy 25th anniversary! Maybe I should take it out for a few drinks. (It would only be fair, considering how many times PowerPoint has driven me to drink.)

Millions of happy cubicle-dwellers adore PowerPoint. It has less of a learning curve than its predecessors (remember Aldus Persuasion?) and its preformatted templates can be a huge time-saver. It’s easy to import images and build colorful charts.

Ironically, these are the very attributes that make PowerPoint so dangerous.

Users are lulled into complacency by all those nifty bullets, as if breaking their rambling text into incoherent little chunks will make it easier to understand. Add in a little animation (To wipe or to twist? That is the question!), a dash of colored text, some Word Art and a pie chart, and the horror is complete.

But I shouldn’t blame PowerPoint for its users’ transgressions. PowerPoint presentations don’t have to be boring or ugly. People just don’t know any better—not even Bill Gates.

Well, for what it’s worth: Happy birthday, PowerPoint.

One comment

  1. 25th anniversary of PowerPoint? That’s even more jarring (and far less amusing) than the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Oh, the torment of ten thousand animated slides, read verbatim by a hundred awkward presenters.

    I have experienced one worthwhile use of a PowerPoint-like presentation tool, by law prof and open source guru Lawrence Lessig ( He turned the usual approach upside-down: spoke compellingly about his theme (the cultural commons online) and only occasionally flashed a simple, elegant slide – some with only a single word – that gave each idea visual impact.

    I’ll take it on faith that PP presentations don’t have to be boring and ugly. To paraphrase what the bumper sticker says of another misused technology, “PowerPoint doesn’t kill people’s interest – people kill people’s interest.”

    Thanks for the timely tips – I’ll arm myself with them as I prepare a PowerPoint for a presentation on the WPA next month. Audience beware.

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