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Anti-PowerPoint Movement?

To PowerPoint or not to PowerPoint...that is the question. In this final thrust of semester's end where the majority of Humphrey students are immersed in course presentations, this question weighs on my mind. These days it seems as if PowerPoint has become inseparable from presentations, as slide-presentation technology is utilized in nearly every Humphrey Class, conference, and professional development training; it has even taken center stage on the big screen (think, An Inconvenient Truth). Moreover, it is expected and oftentimes required that students utilize PowerPoint when giving class presentations, with many students also expecting the same from professors.

Yet a sort of neo-luddite sentiment against PowerPoint is quietly growing. I was at a meeting for a class project last week when one group member raised the question of if we needed to use PowerPoint for our class presentation. At first, I bristled at this suggestion. What? No PowerPoint? As a type-A student who learns best visually, I have to admit that I kind of like PowerPoint (for the most part) when it is used in classes - all the central points laid out for you on colorful slides. Plus, when putting together a presentation, who doesn't get slightly amused when playing around with different background colors, slide formats, and all of those text animation effects with enticing names such as "Swivel" and "Boomerang."

Nevertheless, the conscious decision against the use of slide presentations is not limited to neo-luddite Humphrey students. The Nonprofit Assistance Fund, a Community Development Financial Institution that aims to build financially healthy nonprofits that foster community vitality, had at one time moved away from the use of PowerPoint in their trainings and workshops. This was mostly a response to the reality that many facilities in which they worked did not have PowerPoint capabilities.

Yet as Janet Ogden Bracket, Loan Fund Manager at NAF, added, "PowerPoint has the ability to give some presenters a leg up by providing uniform style and clarity in a presentation, but it also produces some distractions. We are slowly setting up more and more presentations with PowerPoint - but we always keep in mind - audience and length of presentation."

Indeed, most research supports Janet's point regarding the potentially beneficial use of this technology when used correctly (Bartsch & Cobern, 2003). Yet in terms of PowerPoint usage in the classroom, the overuse of this technology could prove detrimental in preparing students for the real world. By failing to engage pupils through other mediums, are we as students losing the art of active listening? Is the overuse of PowerPoint doing a disservice to students by inhibiting them from obtaining other skills needed to function in the workplace? There are many meetings, informal exchanges and other situations that are unaccompanied by PowerPoint slides; in the real world, we do not have the luxury of always seeing a person's main points on a screen behind them, making active listening and our ability to synthesize information all the more crucial. These are especially important issues given the wide-spread use of PowerPoint in high school, middle school and even elementary levels.

When it comes down to it, life does not come with a PowerPoint. And while it is important to follow proper etiquette when designing a presentation, I would argue that the frequency in which this technology is used is just as important as the manner in which it is used. (As the title Doumont's article on PowerPoint states, Slides Are Not All Evil).

So rather than dismiss PowerPoint as entirely evil, my group mate and the NAF bring up important questions that we all should be asking before designing our presentations: who is our audience and does a PowerPoint presentation provide the appropriate medium for achieving the learning objectives?


Good post!
I need to rethink when I should use powerpoints and when I should not.
Thanks for your insights.

This is a very interesting post to me. After leaving Humphrey (and, ah, after having built this very blog with the fine folks of the PNLC), I landed at the Department of State where an incredible amount of my time is spent creating full, fleshed-out documents in PowerPoint. It's really been a challenge for me to get used to the way PowerPoint is done here. It's all about document production, not the creation of an aid for presenters to illustrate points.

Effectively, we use Powerpoint as Word documents that have just been turned on their side.

The State Department's presentation culture is not all it could be. PowerPoints are text-heavy and poorly organized and are often only provided as handouts at meetings. During these meetings, no one stands up at a monitor or screen to actually *present.* Rather, they tend to sit around the table and talk in a normal monotone voice that really tends to lull one to sleep after lunch.

It's not surprising, though, that this is the way things are. State Department, even though it's made strides to incorporate technology into its way of doing business, still does not really embrace technology, and heck PowerPoint has been in the public consciousness for over a decade.

That all being said, I actually landed in my current position due to my information presentation and organization abilities in, yes, Powerpoint. Documents I have helped whip into shape have been seen and approved by Secretary Clinton and have gone onto the President via the NSC.

So, being "good" with PowerPoint can definitely be an asset, professionally.

To that end, any time a course requires or encourages the use of PowerPoint, there should be a primer on how to do it effectively:

* Few words, more images
* Write a separate script or outline that is not contained within the Powerpoint document
* Use Powerpoint to reinforce key points (hey, hmm, perhaps your "Power" points?) not to spell out everything you are saying out loud
* Practice!

Otherwise, poor practices will simply be reinforced as students (and instructors) continue to use Powerpoint in (mostly) ineffective ways.

Jackie, thanks for your insightful post. To show that the world is starting to think anew about Powerpoints, here's a link to a Boston Globe article about the new phenomenon called "powerpoint karaoke." I definitely think we need to try this sometime (maybe after finals are over!).

You answer your own question: 'and all of those text animation effects with enticing names such as "Swivel" and "Boomerang." '

Let's face it, anyone who wants to use them needs to have PPT removed from the PC.... with a large hammer if necessary.

Don't forget, presentations aren't about you, as the presenter. You'd not that important. They're about the audience and about the message. The those two dictate powerpoint then use it; if not, not. Simple. :)

Yes, yes, I know, it's easier said than done! If it was as easy as I've just pretended I'd never make a living out of showing people how to do it! ;)


Author chose a good topic and emhasized his opinions clearly. I understand his concerns about Power-Point. He is right, nowadays almost in every presantation power point is used. It is like if there wouldn't have been power point, we couldn't have presented anything...

I think we should start at the source. Whenever I have to give away a paper and related presentation to a conference - it has to be done in PowerPoint! I mean when I suggest to organizers I can have beautiful slides in Impress or even without presentation software (just use S5 XHTML system, for example) there's no other option to them.

So yes, while I do sometimes consult how to give an effective presentation with body language and hands movement (I suggest Special Edition Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 for all presentation execution tips and traps you will ever need) I am forced to silently listen to many arguments for PP although there are actualy none which can not be made (meaning elements of presentation) in other programs, even SmartArt objects.

I guess it's time for new software, either exploiting HTML like S5 or going the other more video and visual way as new generations are video lovers. Now there's something I have learned what we older generations have to follow - Google's best video length from their research is 3:30 minutes! Many usual, regular presentations I have listened could be that long, too :-).

Matt S Rinc

The question of whether PowerPoint hamstrings a learners ability to synthesize or perform active listening is a valid one, but I've got to say it's not nearly as ominous as the impact of, say, 30 hours of TV every week or 20 hours of World of Warcraft. (I'd have to check my stats on those, but they are ballpark.)
I went to the park with my daughter the other day, and I tried to teach a group of ten 8 year olds how to play TV tag. ( I thought, surely they can do this since they love TV!). The mental flexibility just wasn't there - they aren't thinking on their feet at all. As we were playing, they just blanked. Very scary.
I'll leave PowerPoint alone and worry about mental rigidity in our younger children, I think.

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