Don't Let A Friend Use Powerpoint

Good Morning Everyone

I love the following article about the evil of Powerpoint. I speak all over the world and do seminars and other presentations and I never, never ever use Powerpoint. I am willing to send a copy of my work to the attendees after the seminar is over for their review and files.

I have know for years what the Army just figured out and what most organizations have not figure out and that is that Powerpoint is a crutch for most people because they really don’t understand their material very well. We have all been in the room as they bore us to death reading their Powerpoint line by line, that someone else produced for them.

If you can not stand up and explain something then you don’t understand it.

Half the time you can not even read the Powerpoint because the screen is so jammed with informtion that the font is way too small especially in the back of the room where most people sit so they can quietly escape when the Powerpoint presentation begins. The only advantage to Powerpoint is that the room often is darkened so you can sleep without anyone noticing.

My mother did not use Powerpoint when she had sometime important to talk to me about. She often said, “Look at me when I talk to you.” That is how I feel. When I present I do it with high energy and stories so everyone can visualize my message in their mind verses some mindless Powerpoint slide. From time to time I will use a prop  so everyone can understand something that I can not explain well enough without showing them the real McCoy.

I often follow others who have used Powerpoint. When my turn comes I announce to the audience that I will not be using Powerpoint….I always get a huge applause and cheers. That reaction should tell you something.

Steve Jobs is the master…..He puts up one great creative photo and then presents around that one image.

I recently heard a great speech that revolved around one photo of the Statue of Liberty dimly viewed through a heavy fog.

Technology is not always the solution. Don’t get bored with the basics. Checklists using clip boards are far more effective than using an electronic device. I use both for for different purposes. My Day-Timer is my best friend and my Blackberry  is my second best friend. Powerpoint is not a friend of mine. My Day-Timer is my clipboard.

When you talk to your family tonight I suggest you don’t use Powerpoint…..Have a magical day.

PS: Today I am in Shreveport, La giving leadership talks to 1000 highschool students and tomorrow doing a public seminar to 500 people from the region. Next week I am speaking to Ryder Systems, Inc and then on to South Africa for ten presentation in 5 cities in 9 days.

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

A PowerPoint diagram meant to portray the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan certainly succeeded in that aim.

Published: April 26, 2010

WASHINGTON — Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.

Pool photo by Jim Watson

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, center, in Kabul in March. He gets PowerPoint printouts the night before staff meetings.

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“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.

The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic, which was first uncovered by NBC’s Richard Engel, but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise,” General McMaster said.

Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.

Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” When pressed, he said he was serious.

“I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,” Lieutenant Nuxoll told the Web site. “Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard.”

Despite such tales, “death by PowerPoint,” the phrase used to described the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here to stay. The program, which first went on sale in 1987 and was acquired by Microsoft soon afterward, is deeply embedded in a military culture that has come to rely on PowerPoint’s hierarchical ordering of a confused world.

“There’s a lot of PowerPoint backlash, but I don’t see it going away anytime soon,” said Capt. Crispin Burke, an Army operations officer at Fort Drum, N.Y., who under the name Starbuck wrote an essay about PowerPoint on the Web site Small Wars Journal that cited Lieutenant Nuxoll’s comment.

In a daytime telephone conversation, he estimated that he spent an hour each day making PowerPoint slides. In an initial e-mail message responding to the request for an interview, he wrote, “I would be free tonight, but unfortunately, I work kind of late (sadly enough, making PPT slides).”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reviews printed-out PowerPoint slides at his morning staff meeting, although he insists on getting them the night before so he can read ahead and cut back the briefing time.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting through some PowerPoint briefings is “just agony,” nonetheless likes the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends. He has also conducted more than a few PowerPoint presentations himself.

General McChrystal gets two PowerPoint briefings in Kabul per day, plus three more during the week. General Mattis, despite his dim view of the program, said a third of his briefings are by PowerPoint.

Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given PowerPoint briefings during a trip to Afghanistan last summer at each of three stops — Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Bagram Air Base. At a fourth stop, Herat, the Italian forces there not only provided Mr. Holbrooke with a PowerPoint briefing, but accompanied it with swelling orchestral music.

President Obama was shown PowerPoint slides, mostly maps and charts, in the White House Situation Room during the Afghan strategy review last fall.

Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.

Captain Burke’s essay in the Small Wars Journal also cited a widely read attack on PowerPoint in Armed Forces Journal last summer by Thomas X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, whose title, “Dumb-Dumb Bullets,” underscored criticism of fuzzy bullet points; “accelerate the introduction of new weapons,” for instance, does not actually say who should do so.

No one is suggesting that PowerPoint is to blame for mistakes in the current wars, but the program did become notorious during the prelude to the invasion of Iraq. As recounted in the book “Fiasco” by Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press, 2006), Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, who led the allied ground forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, grew frustrated when he could not get Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander at the time of American forces in the Persian Gulf region, to issue orders that stated explicitly how he wanted the invasion conducted, and why. Instead, General Franks just passed on to General McKiernan the vague PowerPoint slides that he had already shown to Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary at the time.

Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens

  1. I agree with most of the author’s blog. At several presentations I’ve made, I have used Powerpoint as a tool to enhance my message. Many of my presentations have many figures which would make it difficult for the audience to see the relationship between the numbers. My Powerpoint slides are graphs, bar charts and pie charts that show trends. I would never consider “reading” the slides.

  2. Great topic Lee. “Powerpoint is a crutch for most people because they really don’t understand their material.” I agree with that 95%. You come to dread seeing some peoples’ names on an agenda or teaching a class, just knowing that you have a long and tedious PowerPoint presentation coming up. However, if done right, it can be a great “tool”. Some people are visual learners. They just need something to see. So when I put together a PP presentation it’s very limited – very few words or a phrase – maybe a couple of bullet points and a picture. The focus should be on the presenter, the screen. Another good PP presenter, besides Steve Jobs, is Tom Peters. There’s only one thing worse than a PP choked full of wordage . . . a PP choked full of goofy (not the dog) animations!

  3. I couldn’t agree with more. It has come to a point where too many of us have become slaves of PowerPoint. This is really, really sad. PowerPoint can be great – if you use the digital tool to carry your message across. But how many of us really master this art?! Way too few.
    Remember the saying, “A tool with a fool is still a fool”. It applies to the use of PowerPoint, too. So, if you think just because you are apt using PowerPoint and claim to be a good presenter, think again. Chances are, you are not.

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