We all know PowerPoint tends to induce boredom. Despite that, many organizations expect it to be used in almost any setting and for almost any document. This article is about how we ended up here, and why dumping this cultural norm is a good idea.
To understand the “power” in PowerPoint, you have to understand what a cool tool it was way back in the 1990’s.
First of all, creating and decorating decks was fun. It was suddenly easy to insert spiffy clipart, add color, make text into neato shapes — kind of a business version of playing with crayons and a coloring book. (It’s still fun to create and decorate slides, so much so we often forget about meaningful and effective content.)
Secondly, the deck presentations were impressive. Audiences were wowed with beautiful backgrounds, fancy charts, and slides that seemed to move. Zowie!
Of course, that positive impression morphed into “death by PowerPoint”: slides crammed with text and presenters who drone on and on and on… So why does the PowerPoint habit live on?
Here’s why: PowerPoint dropped the bar for acceptable writing. We no longer needed full sentences, just headlines and stuff next to bullet points.
That is the main reason PowerPoint is still prevalent and so often used inappropriately. And here are five reasons why breaking the PowerPoint habit is worth it.
1) PowerPoint is a drag on creativity
No matter how well we know the content, creating teaching, presentation and other materials requires creative thinking. Creative thinking is messy, disorganized and scattered.
PowerPoint forces users to think and work in linear fashion, which means working in it fights our creative mental process. This conflict generates two overarching issues even when PPT is the right tool to use:
(a) Decks not only take longer to create, creating them takes greater effort.
(b) As we put forth that effort, our creative thinking becomes weary, which has a negative effect on how slides look and their efficacy in conveying information.
2) Content doesn’t flow as well
Again, no matter how well we know the content, initial ideas of how content should flow are usually less than ideal. PPT’s linear nature embeds a certain flow right from the start. We end up forcing content into that flow instead of shaping the deck around a desirable flow (often without realizing it).
Now, some people think PowerPoint makes it easy to adjust content flow because it’s easy to move slides around using the sorter. But slides are not usually discrete entities. Moving just one in order usually messes up several more… so we don’t do it, which again hurts quality and efficacy.
3) There’s too little or way too much
On the one hand, using PPT often prompts us to leave a lot of content out because that’s what slides “should” look like: bullet points and bullet-pointy sentences.
That’s perfect for a deck to be used in a presentation. Unfortunately, when PPT is the tool of choice for most materials, that means decks are often read and too much information is missing.
On the other hand, many people jam text onto slides, making them hard to read. Most viewers or readers don’t attempt to decipher the content — they just scan it — skipping information we want them to absorb.
4) PPT files have too many slides/pages
The number of slides also creates problems. To understand this issue, compare PowerPoint to Word.
When content from a deck is transferred into Word the document has one-third to one-half the number of pages even when appropriate explanatory text is added. Now I’ll flip that over, using this article as an example:
In Word it uses just under two pages. Most people will create seven to eighteen slides to “cover” the same content.
In a presentation, those seven to eighteen slides help generate the death by PowerPoint experience. Presenters tend to take longer to cover each slide and yet the information they’re presenting is not as rich — not as engaging.
The number of slides has negative impact when used as a document to read, too. Readers are less likely to thoroughly read seven pages/slides (much less eighteen).
5) Most people learn less
Studies show we absorb much less of what we see on a screen versus seeing the same thing on paper (something about touching paper helps). If the document is supposed to convey information we want people to absorb or learn, we want them to print and read it.
Alas, when a deck is received via email or download, many people view it on their monitor—they don’t print it.
Not PowerPoint’s fault
That’s enough of beating up Microsoft PowerPoint. The tool was and is expressly designed for showing graphic-heavy content on a monitor or other screen. It is an awesome program for that. But even if you’re thinking that’s perfect for your objectives, don’t fire up a blank deck and go to town. Step away from the keyboard and do this instead:
Consider the content—the information you want to convey — not how you want it to look. (It’s the how-it-will-look factor that sucks us onto the path of bad habits.)
- Use the Post-it method to think through the content and its flow, and to create an outline. This is an important step whether you end up using PPT or Word because it fits perfectly with creativity and sets things on an efficient path.
- Choose which program is best based on your objectives and how others will see or use the document.