Seth Godin is an American author of numerous business books and one of the most popular blogs in the world. In a recent post, Nine steps to Powerpoint magic, his provocative first suggestion is:
Don’t use Powerpoint at all. Most of the time, it’s not necessary. It’s underkill. Powerpoint distracts you from what you really need to do… look people in the eye, tell a story, tell the truth. Do it in your own words, without artifice and with clarity. There are times Powerpoint is helpful, but choose them carefully.
Obviously, writing from the point of view of business sales, Godin has a diferent agenda from the academic presenter, but maybe there’s something for us to consider here. Is Powerpoint a valuable supporting device for our lectures and presentations or is it more of a hindrance than a help?
David Byrne*, in his publication Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information, claims that “there are subtle sets of biases at work” in Powerpoint that “have been designed assuming, a priori, a specific world view” and that the software, “by making certain directions and actions easier and more convenient than others, tells you how to think as it helps you accomplish your task”. Thus, in Byrne’s view, Powerpoint is not just a fancy add-on that may or may not render our lectures and other presentations more exciting, more informative and more memorable, but something that actively structures the way we think about the things we think about – driving us to bullet points and tables and text flying on and off the screen, shaping how we know by giving a Powerpoint shape to what we know.
* Yes, that David Byrne – lead singer of Talking Heads