PowerPoint sucks

Higher Education presents students and teachers with a common obstacle: presenting information effectively. Students have to prove to professors that they have learned the course’s material, and professors must provide material for students to learn. Lately a problem plagues students and professors alike, called PowerPoint. While relatively easy to use, the software is not the culprit.

The offending party is the user. The presentation’s author. Can we blame Microsoft for making tools that creating brain-destroying presentations? Yes, but only in small doses. Microsoft made a product that is taken very seriously, coupled with a craft that is very difficult to do (presenting information) and essentially turned it into child’s play. “Click to add title”, the interface beacons.

The fault is undoubtedly at the user’s end. Now that the technology has been available through companies like Microsoft and Macromedia, it’s being downright abused. This happens across the board with any product that claims to allow you to create “professional grade documents”; a short list: graphics programs, word-processors, audio suites, website creation software (which I have already blasted), and a slew of other types of software.

If there is only one thing you retain out of visiting this site, remember this: there is a difference between using technology and using technology effectively.

Information Dissemination

Information Dissemination is sort of a jargon term for what happens when complex concepts are oversimplified. Letting a government agency’s brass about potential failures with a multi-million dollar project that could mean American lives lost? Don’t over simplify your point, making it seem insignificant to the recipient(s) of the presentation.

Yes, we should all be avid supporters of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) but some things are not simple in life, like nuclear physics. A few days ago I posted a link to my linkblog that is titled The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation. Take a look at it; particularly slide 5 – “Organizational Overview”.

Keep it simple. If you’re required to do a presentation, be sure to hand out a more detailed set of notes that the presentation is derived from after doing your actual presentation. If you hand them out before the presentation, it will distract your audience. The simple presentation with a nice “more reading if you’re interested” will be good for your audience, and even better for interested members of your audience.

In Education

I’ve had several classes rely on PowerPoint as the primary means for presenting information to students. For professors, it makes sense. They don’t have to make a different set of slides each semester (unless your curriculum changes). This semester, I’m encountering a new devil. My class uses PowerPoint slides provided from the publisher of the book. Not only do I get poorly created PowerPoint slides, but also a sense of dissatisfaction by having them read to me.

How NOT to use PowerPoint:

  • Presenting Sequential Information over multiple slides (Audience Member: Can you go back?)
  • Presenting complex formulas
  • Reading the slides to a class
  • More than one paragraph of text per slide

How PowerPoint can work in education:

  • Steps to solving a problem (One set of steps, one problem, per slide)
  • A Guide for Lectures (outlining what to elaborate on)
  • Gauging Students’ knowledge (A sort of plagiarism detection, have them do a 5 minute presentation on a character in a book. Ask the student questions during the presentation)
  • Creating RTF equivalents of notes for quick-studying
  • Presenting Informational graphics, useful graphics

If you must use PowerPoint, follow these guidelines:

  • Black and white text only. 10% of the males in your audience are color-blind.
  • Provide more detailed papers after your presentation
  • Provide an RTF equivalent to your presentation (via printout, or via the web) after your presentation

Visual Aids

Visual aids should only be used when they are needed. This sounds like common sense, but you would be surprised how many MS Clipart-ridden presentations with clunky animations are being presented in the world of Higher Education. PowerPoint’s interface makes it very easy to get caught up in the aesthetics of your presentation (theme, clipart, etc) without focusing on the content.

Graphics, like bar charts representing progress, are much easier to interpret than a table full of numbers. Problems arise when presenters feel the need to include a graphic onto every slide. Visual aids are suddenly morphed into audience distractions, and a certain loss of “punch” for your point.


You can always take a step back to the “stone age” and print/write on overhead transparencies, or lecture. If you’re not wanting to, take a look at some of the newer technologies that can help PowerPoint not suck so much.

Microsoft Producer is a tool we have been playing around with at work. Basically, Producer allows you to synchronize video files and PowerPoint presentations. It’s not a magic wand. If the video is just a professor reading a PowerPoint to a class, it serves little purpose. If a student has to miss class – this is a wonderful alternative that is very easy to use and distribute.

Macromedia Breeze is a new product that will create a flash file with audio to supplement the PowerPoint presentation. This is also very easily distributed, and looks promising.

My Experience

Last semester I was presenting for the university’s student affairs board of directors. I accommodated what I had to say with PowerPoint presentations. It was a typical “business” presentation: enough information for the members of the board to make an educated decision. I look back on those presentations and realize there are a lot of things that could have been done better, but my point still came across each time.

It was my first time doing a “real” presentation, and there are a few things I would have done differently. Most of them are specific to the presentation itself, but I do wish I could have provided more in-depth pieces dealing with my topics at the end of the presentation.

Someone buy me a copy of Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

About andyhillky
I'm cool.

6 Responses to PowerPoint sucks

  1. Ross says:

    insert troll post here..

  2. fredward says:

    “If there is only one thing you retain out of visiting this site, remember this: there is a difference between using technology and using technology effectively.”

    I know where you’re coming from. With summer training for the teachers and a semester class for eLearning students their freshman year the laptops might be beneficial instead of just hindering class

  3. randolph says:

    very informative post….i also loved the one about “bad” web sites. you continue to impress me with your knowledge of these things, and how present them in such an articulate fashion.

    now that i’m done kissing your ass….i need a job. any suggestions? :)

  4. Bickett says:

    Hey if you want that book set up a PayPal account. Everyone else is doing it.

  5. alan says:

    you definitely hit the spot with this powerpoint post. you’d figure that professors know how to efffectively use PPT, especially after a couple years of teaching. unfortunately, that’s wishful thinking for most cases. and sound effects suck.

  6. Pingback: Grupo Usuarios Software Libre de Michoacán » Archivo del weblog » Presentaciones online sin power point


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