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August 17, 2006 11:32 AM   Subscribe


 
PowerPoint was the bane of my existence as a training NCO.

My CO would work up her quarterly training brief, then we'd sit around, fingers poised over the mouse, because sometimes the battalion commander would decide that fade transitions were preferable to wipe transitions five minutes before the briefing was scheduled, and everyone in the battalion had to change lest they get a dressing down.

Hateful.

There was a brief ray of hope in the late '90s when Hugh Shelton declared war on the PowerPoint Rangers, but I guess it didn't stick.
posted by mph at 11:39 AM on August 17, 2006


It's unfortunate to see that our military is being lead with the same tactics employed by witless middle managers everywhere.

I guess I should not be surprised.
posted by xmutex at 11:41 AM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


Once again, something that six years ago you'd have dismissed this as sledge-hammer unsubtle satire, as bad fiction or the rantings of a conspiracy theoristnutter, turns out to be nothing less than unvarnished fact.

Is this laziness, a political general more concerned with impressing his civilian superiors than leading and taking care of his men, an attempt at plausible deniability? Who can even tell now? It took Rome four hundred years to succumb to Imperial decadence; we're managing to accelerate the decline to twenty years.

Here's a PowerPoint for you:
Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
posted by orthogonality at 11:46 AM on August 17, 2006


xmutex: That would be by design. Rumsfeld and Bush have both made it abundantly clear that the military should be run the same as a corporation.

Of course, corporations that can't account for a few billion dollars here and there usually face some sort of consequences.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:50 AM on August 17, 2006


Of course, corporations that can't account for a few billion dollars here and there usually face some sort of consequences.

They do? Since when?
posted by blucevalo at 11:57 AM on August 17, 2006


Another oldie but a goodie: The Gettysburg Adress
posted by caddis at 12:11 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


ISTR reading somewhere that when OIF started, the DoD's own little secure defense-only version of the Internet had some largish multiple of the bandwidth they'd had available during ODS, and most of it was consumed by transmitting...you guessed it...PowerPoint presentations!

Somebody I know who made it to O-3 in the USMC told me he was evaluated, in part, on the quality of his PowerPointing. (He was an S-2 and had to brief people outside his shop.)

Later I knew a Navy O-3 on the NROTC staff at a large Southern university who told me that the cadets(?) (Not middies unless they're actually at Annapolis?) had to learn PowerPoint as a collateral training exercise for learning how to brief.
posted by pax digita at 12:12 PM on August 17, 2006


hmmm..
Adress? no...
Address? no...
Cemetery Dedication!
posted by caddis at 12:16 PM on August 17, 2006


This is pervasive. You find this everywhere, from Fortune 500 to the lowliest startups. The great thing about these plans is that they're very easy to do and they're not really plans. When things inevitably go wrong and people start asking why it all broke down there's no clear explanation. I can't even count the number of times I've heard, "But I told them what to do! I made a presentation at the meeting!" At this point, I'd be for banning Powerpoint/Project use by all executive management. Let these "leaders" take the time to write real documentation and memoranda explaining what/when/why they want done.
posted by nixerman at 12:25 PM on August 17, 2006 [2 favorites]


Anyone who uses PowerPoint in any capacity is fucking retarded. No exceptions.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:28 PM on August 17, 2006 [2 favorites]


It's unfortunate to see that our military is being lead with the same tactics employed by witless middle managers everywhere.

IF you'll pardon a derail:

Absent direct "boots on the ground" involvement in a shooting war, it's pretty normal for most "leaders" to be managers or, at a lower level, supervisors. Actual leadership ability is an amazingly scarce, precious commodity in the armed services (and elsewhere!), and there's at best a very loose correlation between spit-and-polish conformity (which is really more about discipline and esprit) and propensity to lead from the front.

Worse, until the shooting starts, it's hard to say which sort you're dealing with from one ossifer or NCO to the next. People who are good at the latter sometimes even get persecuted and punished by the former type; it's called "revenge of the nerds" in some circles.
posted by pax digita at 12:29 PM on August 17, 2006


Anyone who uses PowerPoint in any capacity is fucking retarded. No exceptions.

I'm preparing a strongly-worded presentation to refute that claim. What kind of transitions do you think I should use?
posted by gurple at 12:34 PM on August 17, 2006


If your management says you shall use PowerPoint, it's fucking retarded not to.
posted by rfs at 12:37 PM on August 17, 2006


I think you can make a pretty effective PowerPoint presentation if you keep in mind that less is more as a design dictum.
posted by pax digita at 12:41 PM on August 17, 2006


Optimus, heh? Powerpoint is an excellent aid when giving an oral presentation. Problems just come up when they are treated as a substitute for detailed documentation and explicit direction rather than the supplement they ought to be.
posted by agent at 12:41 PM on August 17, 2006


Then fuck your management, rfs. If my boss tells me to do something stupid, inefficient, and ineffective, I'm going to tell him no, and I'm going to tell him why. When someone is told to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, they could easily do a great one without the fucking Star Wars wipes and the floating JPEGs with like 99% compression and the misspelled words and the hideous depressing corporate hell that comes with it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:42 PM on August 17, 2006


Powerpoint is an excellent aid when giving an oral

hee hee, here it comes!

presentation.

*sigh*
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:43 PM on August 17, 2006


Powerpoint isn't evil.
And guess what, this was a problem before power point. Memos were better? Not really, with memos you had people worried that your margins weren't exactly 1.25", or there were too many spaces between the addressee and the salutation, or the signature block wasn't centered.
The problem is people getting so wrapped up around the packaging (ha! an accidental pun!), that they lose sight of the friggin content. It doesn't matter whether its a 5 Paragraph Mission Order memo, or a 5 slide Mission Order powerpoint. What matters is did you provide the content and tell them what they need to know to execute the mission.
Now, if someone were to claim that the bells and whistles of Powerpoint were evil, then maybe I could buy into that ...
posted by forforf at 12:57 PM on August 17, 2006


Anyone who uses PowerPoint in any capacity is fucking retarded. No exceptions.

Even David Byrne?
posted by everichon at 1:01 PM on August 17, 2006



posted by lodurr at 1:04 PM on August 17, 2006


PowerPoint? Real militaries use Keynote.
Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.

The slide said: "To Be Provided."
posted by kirkaracha at 1:04 PM on August 17, 2006


Al Gore used Keynote in An Inconvenient Truth. Booyah!

Of course, that whole movie's like an ad for Apple. I think he's on the board of directors.
posted by fungible at 1:06 PM on August 17, 2006


Of course it's true that tool is only as bad as the way it's used. But some tools are easier to use badly than other. Powerpoint is such a tool.
posted by lodurr at 1:06 PM on August 17, 2006


blucevalo, what usually happens when corporations misplace billions of dollars is people are fired and people go to jail: see Enron, Worldcom, and Adelphia just to name some fairly recent examples.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:10 PM on August 17, 2006


Anyone who uses PowerPoint in any capacity is fucking retarded. No exceptions.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:28 PM EST on August 17 [+] [!]


Amen to that. Powerpoint is unwork. I've avoided powerpoint completely in my entire working life, but whenever I see people working on presentations (usually on the airplane en route to wherever they are giving the presentation) I notice it's hours of futzing with colors, layout, and clip art, and a few rushed minutes before landing of bullet pointed verbs and adjectives.

In summary:

Powerpoint:
- Useless
- Confusing
- Fired!
posted by Pastabagel at 1:11 PM on August 17, 2006


Optimus Chyme writes "Anyone who uses PowerPoint in any capacity is fucking retarded. No exceptions."

Anyone who makes such ludicrous blanket statements is fucking retarded, no exceptions.

PowerPoint is a tool, nothing more. It can be used brilliantly to provide visual support for an oral presentation--something that's very important, as we process visual information much better than verbal. It can also be used in horrendous ways.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:12 PM on August 17, 2006


Of course, that whole movie's like an ad for Apple. I think he's on the board of directors.
This is indeed correct. Al Gore is on the board of directors for Apple.

And yea, Keynote > powerpoint from a presentation standpoint. Still it can be abused just as bad as PPT.
posted by SirOmega at 1:12 PM on August 17, 2006


The slide said: "To Be Provided."
posted by kirkaracha


We're still waaaaiiiiTiiinng...!
posted by taosbat at 1:13 PM on August 17, 2006


If my boss tells me to do something stupid, inefficient, and ineffective, I'm going to tell him no, and I'm going to tell him why.

I envy you your work environment, Optimus.
posted by LarryC at 1:29 PM on August 17, 2006


Anyone who uses PowerPoint in any capacity is fucking retarded. No exceptions.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:28 PM PST on August 17 [+] [!]


Oh just shut up.
posted by AspectRatio at 1:31 PM on August 17, 2006


Recall too Colin Powell's PowerPoint presentation to the UN making the case for military action against Iraq. Now, of course, we know that it was based on motes of already discredited "intelligence" cherry-picked by the adminstration- but what's more interesting is how the fundmantally flawed argument for war correllated perfectly with the cognitive structure of PowerPoint. Add up enough oversimplified bullet points and slides with loaded captions and you can get any irrefutable conclusion you want. But Edward Tufte said it already, better than I can.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:33 PM on August 17, 2006


PowerPoint is a tool, nothing more. It can be used brilliantly to provide visual support for an oral presentation--something that's very important, as we process visual information much better than verbal.

This thought, while pleasantly neutral, is unfortunately both incorrect and pervasive. Powerpoint is not a blank slate. Microsoft has template structures which influence the majority of the presentations created with it. The structures it imposes, bullet points, titles, wide gutters, poor table design, push authors towards corporate and relentlessly tedious presentations. Tufte (lodurr's link above) argues the particulars much better than I can.

There are much better ways to present than the Microsoft way. Powerpoint can be used in those ways, but you have to throw out the "autocontent" templates to get it to do the right things.
posted by bonehead at 1:41 PM on August 17, 2006


Yes, bonehead, and many other tools come with stupid presets. I don't get how 'this tool has presets that can be useless' means 'this tool IS ALL BAD KILL IT WITH FIRE'.

Baby, bathwater, what?

It's just a tool. How you use it is what determines the utility of the final product. Period.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:44 PM on August 17, 2006


thank god this turned into stupid bickering about the qualities of PowerPoint.
posted by boo_radley at 1:45 PM on August 17, 2006


Real men use transparencies.
posted by ozomatli at 1:48 PM on August 17, 2006


Dosn't suprise me rumsfeild is a powerpoint fan.
posted by delmoi at 1:52 PM on August 17, 2006


Real men don't use visual aids at all.
posted by signal at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2006


You know, anyone who claims that powerpoint is inherently evil, clearly hasn't seen Larry Lessig Present.

On preview: Man, I was totally going to post that Edward Tufte image as well...
posted by Freen at 1:56 PM on August 17, 2006




Up until this engagement there was a shortage of combat veterans in the ranks, particularly at the command levels. The problem now is there is a shortage of combat veterans (or indeed anyone with any military experiance) on the political level. Political expediancy often overrides practical considerations so you have vague non-plan “plans” in place (indeed, our engagement in Panama was won by unit commanders and NCOs, despite the bullshit heaped on them from above).
posted by Smedleyman at 2:02 PM on August 17, 2006


Oh just shut up.
posted by AspectRatio at 1:31 PM PST on August 17



posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:19 PM on August 17, 2006


dirtynumbangelboy: It's just a tool. How you use it is what determines the utility of the final product. Period.

Well on the other hand, there is about 80 years worth of thought that suggests that tools are never "just tools." Tools are an intimate part of larger social systems and shape how those systems develop.

In addition, not all tools are ideal for every final product. It is very difficult to build a radio with a claw hammer, or a house with a sodering iron. The utility of the final product is determined not just by how you use the tools, but by choosing the right tool for the job.

The problem with PowerPoint is that it's not "just a tool" it's become both the ends and the means. For oral communications the attitude has become, "use PowerPoint, now what do you want to say?" So you have people trying to shoehorn concepts into PowerPoint slides or (worse) bulleted lists that would be easier to communicate with a map, a model, a diagram, interperative dance, a discussion, a game, or a demonstration that goes bang.

Going back to the military angle, this is a shame really, because the American military used to be one of the big innovators in instructional media back when it was forced to ramp up from a minimal military scattered across the United States and various colonies, to a force capable of invading North Africa, Europe on two fronts, and leapfrog across the Pacific.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:20 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


Let's try that again.


posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:23 PM on August 17, 2006


dirtynumbangelboy: It's just a tool. How you use it is what determines the utility of the final product. Period.

I sort of agree with you, but only if I don't think of the default templates as part of the "tool."

For most people (though perhaps not for you), that's like not thinking of the seats as part of the "car."

Also, PowerPoint really only works easily -- really only fits into the wall-reading zeitgeist -- if it's used in a certain way. That way is what Tufte et al are on about. And as someone with more years than I want to think about in the corporate world, I have to say, they have a major point.

Not that the culture of PowerPoint has a snowballs chance in hell of going away any time soon.
posted by lodurr at 2:34 PM on August 17, 2006


... the American military used to be one of the big innovators in instructional media ...

And they still do drive a lot. Viz SCORM.
posted by lodurr at 2:36 PM on August 17, 2006


Smedleyman writes 'our engagement in Panama'

Isn't that a lovely little euphemism for the shelling of shantytowns from sea.
posted by signal at 2:36 PM on August 17, 2006


Absent direct "boots on the ground" involvement in a shooting war, it's pretty normal for most "leaders" to be managers or, at a lower level, supervisors. Actual leadership ability is an amazingly scarce, precious commodity in the armed services...

Anyone interested in these topics should read Solzhenitsyn's August 1914 (brief review), which is pretty much all about them. And amazingly enough, I had just reached the start of Chapter 53, where General Blagovéshchensky is described (with Solzh's patented heavy sarcasm) as realizing "that one should never issue sharp, decisive instructions." Of course, the mess the Russian General Staff made of the invasion of East Prussia could plausibly be attributed to poor training, equipment, and lines of communication in addition to abysmally bad leadership; in Iraq we have only the latter to blame.
posted by languagehat at 2:41 PM on August 17, 2006


Let's try that again.

posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:23 PM EST on August 17 [+] [!]


You'll never win your war on Iraq with that, OC. :)
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:14 PM on August 17, 2006


Well the 'It's just a tool' argument is just wrong. Powerpoint, like many bad tools (C++, German Idealism, plastic filing cabinets), actively encourages bad practices. Powerpoint (and MS Project) is bad in a very special way because it provides the illusion of depth. You could make a Powerpoint presentation about anything and present it even to an educated audience and they'll buy it. Go ahead and try it. I've seen this experiment performed many times and it never fails. Powerpoint is television but it lacks the playful ironic pose of TV; people reading through a presentation really believe there's a there there even though, in reality, they're just looking at a bunch of bullet lists and pretty graphics. Now this is very good if you're just looking to bullshit somebody, but it's not the best way to plan an invasion. Unless, again, you're just looking to bullshit somebody.
posted by nixerman at 3:27 PM on August 17, 2006 [2 favorites]


Hmmm.... so what tool should I use if I want to display graphs or animations of research data, or if I want to derive/explain equations at a conference? Should I write and draw on a blackboard with colored chalk as quickly as possible, or use transparencies (and presumably flip through the transparencies to provide animation)? Do I lose points if my transparencies are identical in format to what my powerpoint slides would have been?

Nice throwing C++ in there nixerman. Only retards use C++, real programers use [Insert favorite language]. Also, they only use [Insert favorite OS]. And they eat [insert favorite ice cream] while worshiping [insert favorite god].
posted by Humanzee at 3:50 PM on August 17, 2006


Humanzee writes "Hmmm.... so what tool should I use if I want to display graphs or animations of research data, or if I want to derive/explain equations at a conference? "

HTML works nicely.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:11 PM on August 17, 2006


With Flash for the animations, of course.



But I kid. If you know what you're going, PP works fine.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:12 PM on August 17, 2006


And by "going", I mean "doing", which I obvious don't. Know what I am. Doing.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:15 PM on August 17, 2006


I'm defending powerpoint too. Put 50-100 untrained car salesman in a hotel ballroom for 4 hours. Your purpose is to teach them how to sell a car to a customer without making the customer angry at the dealership because of salesman pressure, cheesy lines, or dodgy business practices. You are also supposed to impart some product knowledge. And you are supposed to keep their attention for FOUR HOURS. Sure, you can feed 'em lunch and give 'em cookies, and they'll most likely be happy. But to actually make them pay attention, you must have some visual stimulation. We'd team up PowerPoint with wireless audience response keypads and software to get audience interaction. Some presenters know how to correctly use the slides as an emphasis. Some (not so good) presenters would rely strictly on the slides for the entire content of their seminar.

Powerpoint is not the source of poor presentations. Poor presenters are.
posted by Roger Dodger at 4:22 PM on August 17, 2006


Powerpoint allows encourages people who should not be allowed anywhere near an audience without substantial training to give hour-long presentations.

Powerpoint is a tool, but it is a bad tool. Sure, like a plastic hammer if you're skilled enough you can use it to make brilliance, but you're more likely to just flail around and embarrass yourself.
posted by Skorgu at 4:33 PM on August 17, 2006


“Isn't that a lovely little euphemism for the shelling of shantytowns from sea.” - posted by signal

“Engagement” as in engagement of forces. It’s a term devoid of political implication regardless of your perspective on it, signal. Commentary on the engineering specifications of a processor chip for example does not equate to criticism or praise for Intel. I myself don’t much care for naming operations “Just Cause” and such, but the name is not relevent to lessons learned or description of events or indeed even clarity.
Which is precisely what a large part of the problem is. One cannot give an accurate description of events or make plans or estimations based on relevent intelligence, experiance based data, knowlege of force capabilities and the like without it getting judged politically - whatever the civilian bellwether. Or so I’ve read from retired generals. And it seems the climatologists are getting it in the ass that way lately as well. I can only imagine other professionals, practice or non-practice, getting that when they give feed back: “Hydroelectric gravity dam isn’t that a lovely little euphemism for depriving native americans of their way of life.”
No offense meant, signal. A comment on metafilter (however good/bad/accurate/inaccurate) does not in any way equate to the real world consequences of powerful people framing actions for political gain rather than in line with the advice of the professionals who do the work. I suspect we can agree on that.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:36 PM on August 17, 2006


The point I hoped to make in bringing up Panama is that (the political factors/considerations aside) it was a decentralized joint force operation, rapidly deployed to simultaneously engage multiple targets with increasingly restrictive rules of engagement as it went on and worked (for the most part, bit too much Hollywood some places) because of solid input from and actions of unit commanders, et.al. not this vague powerpoint b.s.
I think the word “amateur” is too soft on Rumsfeld. He’s continually proven he will not take the heat for any effort that does not work. I can only speculate that this power point planning comes from the cover your ass blame game M.O. they seem to have had from day one. Like engineering, there are variables, but ultimately something can either be executed according to plan, or it can’t. If it can’t you have a chain of command and orders from which you can derive lessons so you don’t make the same mistakes over and over. Here, apparently, not so much.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:03 PM on August 17, 2006


An oldie but goodie, if you're familiar with the Rifleman's Creed.

"This is my PowerPoint. There are many like it, but mine is XP.
My PowerPoint is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I master my life.
My PowerPoint without me is useless. Without my PowerPoint, I am useless.
I must format my slides true.
I must brief them better than the others who are trying to outbrief me.
I must brief the impact on the CDR before he asks it of me. I will.
My PowerPoint and I know that what counts is not the number of slides, the colors of the highlights, nor the format of the bullets. We know that it is the new information that counts. We will brief only new information.
My PowerPoint is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as my brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strengths, its fonts, its accessories, its formats, and its colors. I will keep my PowerPoint slides current and ready to brief. We will become part of each other. We will...
Before God, I swear this creed.
My PowerPoint and I are defenders of our country.
We are the masters of our subject. We are the saviors of my career.
So be it, until victory is ours and there is no enemy but peace."
via
posted by jawbreaker at 5:06 PM on August 17, 2006


/States it much clearer than I did on the arms and influence blog referenced in the presentationzen piece here
posted by Smedleyman at 5:12 PM on August 17, 2006


I rarely see presentations that involve these crazy jpegs and wipes and transitions that Optimus and others are complaining about. Most are just computer versions of the sort of thing people did with plastic sheets and markers when I was a kid.

Of course, I'm a developer, so I tend to see presentations from other engineer-types or at least those who are used to working with us.

Do actual businesses really worry that much about doing those silly effects? I've only seen those on the internet.

(of course, I work at MSFT, and we rarely seem to use our own tools in the way everyone else does)
posted by wildcrdj at 5:13 PM on August 17, 2006


Humanzee: Hmmm.... so what tool should I use if I want to display graphs or animations of research data, or if I want to derive/explain equations at a conference? Should I write and draw on a blackboard with colored chalk as quickly as possible, or use transparencies (and presumably flip through the transparencies to provide animation)? Do I lose points if my transparencies are identical in format to what my powerpoint slides would have been?

There are perhaps a dozen ways to present this kind of information without using PowerPoint. PowerPoint is sometimes a good tool for presenting this kind of data, but often it is not.

Roger Doger: Put 50-100 untrained car salesman in a hotel ballroom for 4 hours. Your purpose is to teach them how to sell a car to a customer without making the customer angry at the dealership because of salesman pressure, cheesy lines, or dodgy business practices. You are also supposed to impart some product knowledge. And you are supposed to keep their attention for FOUR HOURS. Sure, you can feed 'em lunch and give 'em cookies, and they'll most likely be happy. But to actually make them pay attention, you must have some visual stimulation.

Well, there is the problem right there. Four hours of "visual stimulation" isn't training. It's throwing information against the wall in the hope that it sticks. This highlights the basic problem with PowerPoint, "PowerPoint is the tool, what are your learning objectives?"

If your purpose is to teach them how to sell a car to a customer then using PowerPoint is the wrong way to go about it. This is a learning objective that's begging for a workshop-based format. Spend half an hour introducing the subject, then break them into smaller groups for roleplay. Have some volunteers try to "sell" to the instructor, then open the floor for group discussion and critique. Other possibilities here include video and performance.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:31 PM on August 17, 2006


I work for [government agency], and I use PowerPoint a LOT. Right now we're working on a presentation for a years-long development effort. When someone on our team brought up the idea of having a business case and supporting written documentation, the "lead" shot it down, saying "We'll have that in the charts."

I'm quitting as soon as I find another job.

That being said, I don't think that Powerpoint is inherently evil any more than any sort of PC business software is inherently evil. These things do enable rushed last-minute work, inattention to detail, and ridiculous nit-pickiness in unimportant aspects (cough clipart cough). But you're going to find that in anything that makes a task less time-consuming -- people don't have to think about what they're doing, so they write emails with slipshod grammar and try to one-up each other on slide transitions. Bah. The culture is what's flawed, not the tools.
posted by kdar at 5:37 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


I rather doubt Optimus Chyme has ever actually had a job. At least, a job of doing more than asking "would you like to supersize that?"
posted by nlindstrom at 5:38 PM on August 17, 2006


note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand -- not at other members of the site.
posted by languagehat at 6:34 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


On the Frontline entitled Rumsfeld's War, there's a brief shot, about 2/3 of the way through, of the Powerpoint presentation designed, at least as far as I can tell, by Col. Douglas Macgregor, architect of America's useless plan to "win the war" in Iraq. It involved a big arrow, and stretched text, and yellows and reds. It almost made me cry.

"They brought me in and said: 'We're looking at Iraq. The chief of staff of the Army says it will take at least 560,000 troops.' Well, of course I burst out laughing immediately, because those are more troops than we have in the active component. Secondly, the Iraqi enemy was always so weak. Why would you want that many forces?" - an interview with Col. Macgregor
posted by blacklite at 6:40 PM on August 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


The main reason Powerpoint is so widely hated is because it makes anything you write seem worthy of flashing on a screen--that is, almost every Powerpoint presentation I've seen lacks two things: decent writing based on an outline, and editing. I prefer chalkboards.
posted by Osama bin Laden at 7:46 PM on August 17, 2006


kirkjobsluder, we did do that. We would have breakout rooms with smaller groups. We would show training videos. We would have walk-around competitions. Vehicle displays and product demos. Ride and drives. We did all kinds of things. My point was that Powerpoint was only one facet of the presentation. If it was the whole thing, then of course we wouldn't have much success. But if you take the powerpoint away, you lose something from the presentation. People take notes, and it's handy to refer to something onscreen rather than repeat yourself over and over again.

Mind you, we had graphic designers and project managers creating the slide presentations, and they were thoroughly questioned and checked for relevance by the client. Then we'd send them out to teams going around the country. I've done well over 800 shows using powerpoint as only one input on the video switcher. That's why it's called multimedia. Powerpoint is not intrinsically useless, it can just be used wrong.

As for throwing information against the wall and seeing what sticks, everybody takes something different home from their training. But the response from participants stopping by my control table was always overwhemingly positive, and everybody learns something. It's not cheap for the manufacturers to create these programs, but it's definitely better training they receive from their own dealerships.
posted by Roger Dodger at 7:47 PM on August 17, 2006


My Powerpoint Rule is this: Every slide is one idea, presented as succinctly as possible, as large as possible.

However, this only works if you are a decent public speaker.

I think the reason PPT gets such a bad rap, is that it is typically used as a crutch so people can avoid public speaking. It is more frightening than washing windows on the 100th floor of a skyscraper.

Why bother taking the emotional and psychological risk of speaking when you can say it all, with bullet points and fancypants animations. No one will laugh at you, but they won't care about you either.
posted by Freen at 8:42 PM on August 17, 2006


Some of my college professors lectured while writing on the blackboard; others lectured from prepared PowerPoint slides. I fell asleep in the PowerPoint classes significantly more often.
posted by casarkos at 9:12 PM on August 17, 2006


My high school English teacher said that if a person isn't able to write comprehensibly, he isn't able to actually think. Thus, the subsitution of boxes of bullet points with arrows flying randomly for analysis and cogent planning.

The people who do this kind of thing aren't writing and therefore, they're not thinking.
posted by pyramid termite at 9:41 PM on August 17, 2006


I remember after reading several of Tufte's books I tried to apply his ideas for presenting information clearly and simply to my powerpoint presentations. However, I found the tool to be remarkably inflexible for manipulating the appearance of charts for simplicity. There are four hundred ways to add distractions to your information, but to actually reduce information to its essence in powerpoint seems to be much harder. Presenting short lists of information or creating a "flashcard" system seems to be the only thing powerpoint is good for. The charting is broken, and only the use of visio or a cad program to produce charts and then back port them to powerpoint seems to work.

My wife on the other hand, draws things freehand (or with rulers), takes a digital picture, and uses that as a powerpoint slide.

All in all, I think the software gives you the least bang for your buck of any office program.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:09 PM on August 17, 2006


Freen nails it, for me atleast.
"No one will laugh at you, but they won't care about you either."
If you are worried about the first point, you dont care at all about the second point.
posted by Iax at 10:30 PM on August 17, 2006


PowerPoint is actually a very effective tool in one important (and pernicious) way: It's fantastic for creating (manufacturing) concensus.

Corporate presentations are seldom really about information transfer. Or, more precisely, they're seldom really about what they seem to be about. By the time a PPT is being given, you're usually to the point where what you really need to do is get everyone on the same page about the ideas. They don't have to like them; they just have to understand the vocabulary. (And use it, of course.)

This is normally done in socieities via something that the late Rich Gold of PARC called "synchronous reading" (i.e., a lot of people reading the same thing together), or "wall reading", which is just what it sounds like: Getting the official story by looking at the poster on the wall. (But what about graffitti? Well, gotta have a fly in every gob of ointment...)

Rich Gold:
There are two basic forms of wall reading. The first form is primarily asynchronous and public. It includes billboards, road signs, posters, airport arrival and departure signs, building exit maps, you-are-here maps, storefront signs and the like. The second group is vocally glossed wall reading. It includes teachers pointing at blackboards, coaches explaining play diagrams, generals barking orders over military maps, museum tour guides pointing to painting signs, art directors caressing new advertising campaign boards on flip charts. Powerpoint is not only a member of this second group, but it has virtually colonized it. While it is often assumed that Powerpoint slides simply help the readers/listeners follow the speaker's argument, this and other types of vocally glossed wall reading actually serve a very different function. The slides externalize the truth—here it is, here's the truth—and allow the audience to analyze it separately but simultaneously, incorporating what the speaker is saying about that same truth. The slide is not simply an opinion; it is a written artifact on a wall owned in common by all in the room—even if, as is usually the case, it is the speaker who originally wrote the words.

It is for this reason that it is considered a faux pas for the speaker to simply read the slides. The strategy of reading the slides attempts to make private what is now perceived to be public. It is also for this reason—and I'm sure you're all aware of this by this point—that for the speaker to simply read directly from notes without extemporizing while the slides click by is also considered a faux pas. Reading from notes conveys the message that the speaker is not commenting on the commonly held written artifact but is rather reporting on some previous private musings. Actually, this is a mistake which I have made.

Like all rituals, Powerpoint presentations arose from precursor rituals—shifting them, enlarging them, engulfing them. What was once minor, off to the side, primitive, not critical, has become central, expansive, elaborate, sophisticated, and core. Such shifts can occur for social, political, economic, and technical reasons. The technical shift in this case was the personal computer. The driving social need leading to the rise of Powerpoint was, of course, corporate communications. Those of you who create product know how mindbending it is, how many thousands of people and how many scores of companies it takes to put a single white button on your shirt. To achieve this remarkable feat requires more than just communication—though it certainly requires that. It actually requires common purpose and direction, not just to get the white button to your shirt, but also to make a profit on it.

As a result, corporate workers swim in a thick soup of communications, ranging from voice mail to e-mail, from brochures to video conferences, from annual reports to Web pages, from memos to meetings to hallway gossip. Each form takes a different amount of non-trivial time to construct and consume. What Powerpoint accomplishes is not time efficiency. Powerpoint slides are actually quite time consuming and difficult to produce; and the information contained in a 45-minute Powerpoint presentation can usually be contained in a short memo. What Powerpoint dramatically contributes is a unifying sense of community and direction, much as a war dance intensifies the fighting power of a tribe about to go to war. If everyone is focused in the same direction, it's far more likely that the white button will get onto your shirt.
(This is from a talk I heard him give at Seybold Boston in '99. It's no longer directly available, so this is the Google Cache version. It's a really fascinating read. )
posted by lodurr at 4:05 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


(More permanent google cache link.)

More links to Gold's ideas about / experiments with PPT (some of which, alas, have since gone 404). This little nostalgic festival of Googling has revealed that he compiled his ideas on ubicomp into a book, available as a PDF, called The Plenitude. (Found here.)
posted by lodurr at 4:17 AM on August 18, 2006


Presentation Zen.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:00 AM on August 18, 2006


It's fantastic for creating (manufacturing) consensus.

Bingo. Why argue your point based on facts, when you can use every trick in the advertiser's book.

My biggest problem with powerpoint over chalkboards and overheads -- they're static. Oh, they can have animation and crap, but the only content going up is the content in the slides.

With an overhead, you can expand on a point, or, if you are in the audience, you can make the presenter expand on a point that he's trying to handwave over. Nothing culls the wheat from the chaff faster than 'Could you explain that in a little more detail."

Heck. Look at the name "Power. Point." I will forcefully make this point.

Hmm.
posted by eriko at 5:25 AM on August 18, 2006



posted by effwerd at 5:30 AM on August 18, 2006


From the lede article:
It is just plain stupid to use projected slides (i.e., visuals) used in a live presentation as a document to be read later by people who did not see the talk. Surely the military knows the difference between on-screen visuals used in a live presentation and important documents and reports to be read and referenced in the field.
... which is one of my pet peeves w.r.t. PowerPoint. I have written from scratch and given relatively few PPT presentations. I've given a lot of presentations; relatively few in PPT. When I have given them, and when they were to be available post facto as handouts, I've made a point of pasting detailed notes into the Notes section. Otherwise, they're pretty much useless as post facto documents.

But that's how they're commonly treated. I can't tell you how often I go to a conference, and someone sticks up their hands and says "Will the presentation be availalbe online?" Why do you care -- it will be useless to you without the notes you should be taking! But then, I miss my own point: It's not about that information; it's about the social information, the concensus.

When Rumsfeld passed along the slides in lieue of orders, he was sending a very important signal. He was saying, "I am so important that my very thoughts should be present in your mind at all times. You should know always what I am thinking, so that when you read [sic] these slides, you will know what I want."

Or, to put it another way: "There are no bullet points like the Maximum Leader's bullet points."^

Blaming the tool, though, is immensely short sighted and narrow-minded. Short sighted because it doesn't solve the problem; narrow minded because it displays a failure to deploy the imagination required to see that the problem isn't the tool, it's the desire for the tool.

Blaming management isn't much better. They were brought up in the system, they re-enforce its aesthetics every day. They know they need to accomplish something -- to "put the white button on the shirt" -- and they know that to do it, they need to engender a concensus. What would we have them do?

The problem is not the need to create a concensus. The problem is what we create the concensus over, and whether we do it honestly, or dishonestly. Powerpoint is a great tool for creating dishonest concesus. It's not a very good tool for creating honest concensus.
posted by lodurr at 5:45 AM on August 18, 2006


Wow. I swear I thought that was from Time Cube Guy or something; I had to google "aimed pressure to achieve end-state over time" to discover it actually is from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 AM on August 18, 2006


"That" being the slide effward posted. Damn, this thread moves fast.
posted by languagehat at 5:47 AM on August 18, 2006


I rather doubt Optimus Chyme has ever actually had a job. At least, a job of doing more than asking "would you like to supersize that?"
posted by nlindstrom at 5:38 PM PST on August 17


Don't be mad just because I get to speak my mind to my boss. Try manning up and telling yours when his ideas are dumb; you might find yourself actually being productive and appreciated.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:17 AM on August 18, 2006


oh, yeah that will work wonders at my place ...


me - "your ideas are dumb"

them - "they're not our ideas, they're corporate's"
posted by pyramid termite at 6:55 AM on August 18, 2006


Optimus : There should be many more important things to talk to your boss about than the supposed evils of PowerPoint - you sound like the office crank.
posted by rfs at 7:13 AM on August 18, 2006


"Power corrupts. Power Point corrupts absolutely."
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:24 AM on August 18, 2006


Optimus : There should be many more important things to talk to your boss about than the supposed evils of PowerPoint - you sound like the office crank.
posted by rfs at 7:13 AM PST on August 18


I guess it's a good thing I'm not calling meetings to discuss the evil of Power Point, then. I just refuse to use it, just like I refuse to use Comic Sans. This is a petty mountain on which to make a stand, I know, but it's my mountain, dammit.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:55 AM on August 18, 2006


OC is arguing for good information design and effective communication delivered with the right tools. That doesn't make him a crank. As long as management's ego doesn't get in the way, this kind of input should always be valued regardless of how the input is acted upon. (I have to deal with bizarre and nonsensical directives handed down from management and corporate a lot and I always push back when appropriate.)

I mean, isn't this thread about this very need? That someone should've pushed the idea that maybe articulating our strategy for Iraq and the War on Terror might be better served by something other than PowerPoint? Or that someone in upper management should've listened?
posted by effwerd at 8:55 AM on August 18, 2006


Reading this thread has been very amusing to me. For one, it's apparent that PowerPoint is a very different tool for me and my colleagues than it is for most of you. I've never used any built-in tools. I didn't even know it could make charts. I make everything in other programs, save them as image files and paste them into slides. PowerPoint is just a slide show program. Usually when I give presentations, there's a blackboard available for any extemporaneous drawing and deriving.

Secondly, I've been working on slides needed for a progress report on my (army-funded, army-run) grant. I will not be giving the presentation, and neither will anyone who knows me. Instead they will be uploaded, and eventually presented to an audience by someone who (as far as I can tell) doesn't know that I or my research exist at this moment. I wasn't even allowed to make my own presentation really, because there was a template I had to fill in. Many of the template slides made literally no sense in relation to my project.

My personal take on this is that the army is run by lunatics. Of course if I was ever to say that to them, they'd stop giving me money to carry out my (completely non-homocidal) research. I think that grievous misuse of PowerPoint is a symptom, not the disease.
posted by Humanzee at 9:44 AM on August 18, 2006


OC is arguing for good information design and effective communication delivered with the right tools. That doesn't make him a crank.

No, but calling everyone who ever uses PPT "retarded", and issuing a blanket condemnation of every manager who ever condones its use -- that could qualify as "crankishness", in my book.

It reminds me of my declaration as a teen that I would never have a job where I had to wear a tie, because such jobs were Bad, Man.
posted by lodurr at 9:59 AM on August 18, 2006


I’m also reminded of that bit from “Fight Club” where Tyler’s supervisor asks if it comes in cornflower blue.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2006


No, but calling everyone who ever uses PPT "retarded", and issuing a blanket condemnation of every manager who ever condones its use -- that could qualify as "crankishness", in my book.

OC is definitely cranky, but that doesn't make him a crank.
posted by languagehat at 11:11 AM on August 18, 2006


Don't be mad just because I get to speak my mind to my boss. Try manning up and telling yours when his ideas are dumb; you might find yourself actually being productive and appreciated.
I did, and then I had to fire myself. I can't have myself speaking to me that way. As the boss, maybe I'll order myself to do a lengthy presentation in PowerPoint as punishment.

(I'm self-employed. Laugh, it was supposed to be funny!)
posted by nlindstrom at 1:53 PM on August 18, 2006


...just like I refuse to use Comic Sans.
Bravo! I routinely uninstall that godforsaken font from every computer I use. I hate that font with the heat of a thousand suns.

(For those who don't know the history of that blasted font, it started out as the default font used in a horrible and short-lived chat program called Microsoft Comic Chat. It ran a kind of perpetual comic strip as you talked with your friends, all of whom were represented as hideous cartoon avatars speaking in bubbles filled with Comic Sans text. I think it died the same death as Microsoft Bob.)
posted by nlindstrom at 1:58 PM on August 18, 2006


MS Comic Chat? Surely you're making that up.

Anyway, Comic Sans is clearly a copyright-avoidance knockoff of Tekton. Maybe that's where it first showed up, but we all used it because we couldn't get "Architect" (a better-executed Tekton knockoff) on the PCs.

It's actually really good for printing things really small.
posted by lodurr at 2:15 PM on August 18, 2006


Comic Sans MS to 13 August 2006: That's a lot of hating, Don Quixote.
posted by taosbat at 6:01 PM on August 18, 2006


i blog in comic sans

you may now hate me
posted by pyramid termite at 5:55 PM on August 19, 2006


People, people: Hate the font, not the writer.
posted by lodurr at 1:17 PM on August 20, 2006


lodurr, reference jerkcity. Done in MS Comic Chat.
posted by kdar at 6:52 PM on August 22, 2006


Hey! He stole my favicon!
posted by lodurr at 4:04 AM on August 23, 2006


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