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Powerpoint turns 20

July 11, 2007

• How

• Many
• Bullet
• Points
• Before
• You
• Lose
• Interest?

It was 20 years ago that Microsoft revolutionized the way we stood in front of a group of people and presented.  That’s two decades of bullet points and slideshows that have allowed businessmen, musicians, politicians and comedians alike to express themselves with Microsoft Office’s visual aid PowerPoint.

Back in the late eighties we laughed at our science teachers when they burned themselves on an overhead projector or fumbled with their clear, handwritten sheets so they weren’t projecting their notes upside and backwards.  What a relief when Powerpoint came to our rescue… well not exactly.

Powerpoint made it easy to display pictures and graphs but it made presenters lazy.  “It celebrated form over content,” and became a crux, a way for a speaker to subtitle their speech.  Powerpoint is loathed by many because of its effectiveness at turning any decent speech into a bore and putting the audience to sleep.

Google recently gave word that it would be releasing a PowerPoint clone that would complete it’s online suite of office software, so it’s not exactly an antiquated form of communication, but should it be?  Long sentences either create awkward silences or bore the audience with information the presenter should have memorized.  The bullet point format has a tendency to move a presenter along without much fluidity or thought and charts and graphs end up looking downright confusing.

powerpoint good bad

Presenting has intimidated even the most confident speaker, so having a tool to help out is understandable.  What I’d really like to know is why there is only one option when we want to put together a presentation?   Comparing Firefox to Safari shows us how much more functionality is possible when innovation is demanded.  It just seems strange that Powerpoint is the only tool available for an art creative as the visual delivery of content.

Possibly the issue with Powerpoint is a user based error.  It seems like most problems arise from the presenter who relies too heavily on his slides to deliver a presentation.  

David Byrne of the Talking Heads speaks at his Powerpoint art exhibit, ” PowerPoint restricts users no more than any other communication platform, he asserted, including a pencil: “When you pick up a pencil you know what you’re getting — you don’t think, ‘I wish this could write in a million colors.'”  There is something to be said if a creative individual like Byrne can fill an auditorium to display his Powerpoint based artwork.

Maybe we need a revamped powerpoint curriculum, or maybe it is the tool; but shouldn’t we start looking at different ways to use visual aid technology? Has the PowerPoint software outlived it’s time and what kind of new technologies and methods of presenting are sprouting up to challenge our seemingly old school technique for visual communication?

Posted by ken fisher

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