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“One Damn Slide After Another”: PowerPoint at Every Occasion for Speech (2016) (computationalculture.net)
187 points by panic on Nov 5, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

The best-constructed talk i ever saw as as scientist was by a medic who considered himself far too busy and important to spend time mucking around with Powerpoint. The only slides he had were figures of his results - photomicrographs of tissue, graphs of drug effects, etc - probably lifted from a paper in preparation, and so probably done by his graduate students anyway. This meant that there were only a handful of slides, so very few distracting transitions to distract from his talking, and the screen was always full of important content.

Needless to say, that this guy's combination of laziness and arrogance had led to him to have a much better presentation than me with much less effort left me absolutely furious.

For every one of those, I've seen disorganized mumbling that a set of slides could have really helped.

I pull off this sort of stuff (very few slides or talk sheet with a few bullet points) nowadays after a decade of corporate managerial life. It essentially requires you to be ultra clear in your mind about message and narrative and to develop an ability to communicate simply. It's very difficult to pull off without much practice especially early in your career - so don't feel bad.

I found when I applied the principles I use for software, it helped me make much better presentations.

Build a (user) story. Why are presenting? What do you want to accomplish by taking to these people? Based on what they already know, how much background do they need? Your don't build features by adding buttons and sliders - you figure out user stories by asking why a dozen times. It's not quite the same dynamic but you can roughly go through the same exercise, even if it's just in your head.

The other big thing is to reduce text content to the bare minimum. Remove sentences (move them to speaker notes, if you want). Keep rephrasing things to make it shorter. If you have lots of text on screen people read it and don't pay attention to you. If you're reading the text verbatim, you might as well just email your content and not waste the time talking.

Visuals are good when possible. Even dumb stock photos can work: for example, if you're making an argument that your onboarding process is too complex, a photo of a crazy highway interchange can help reinforce that. It certainly leaves a more lasting impression that a 9-point bulleted wall of text.

> It essentially requires you to be ultra clear in your mind about message and narrative

I think this is a requirement (unfortunately too infrequently enforced) for making any presentation to more than a few folks. If a number of people are dedicating their time, brain cells and energy to listen to the presenter, that presenter should make his message as clear as possible. Know exactly what you want to say, write main points into charts, say it.

There are some exceptions -- at scientific conferences it is usually OK to lose all but narrow specialists in the last 25-50% of the presentation, but even then the "general" section should be clear.

I highly recommend this approach if your domain even remotely supports it. When I have full control over a presentation, that's what they look like.

Another advantage is that when you try to jam text and figures on to the same page, you shortchange what the figure can be; keeping all the space for a diagram means it can be meaningfully complicated. I dislike almost all "architecture diagrams" anyhow because they're almost all the same [1], but if you get a full screen, you may have a chance to put something complicated enough to capture a useful slice of some system, where as by the time a figure is done being jammed on to a page with a couple of lines of text, it's been reduced to 10-20% of the useful area of the page and can't hardly have any useful information in it.

[1]: You know them, because you've seen them. There's the diagram with four or five boxes with tiny bits of text in them, randomly connected by some lines. Sometimes some of them are dashed. There's the diagrams with four or five machines randomly connected, that helpfully shows you that the API server connects to a database, and that users connect to the API server. (No shit? Wow!) Some clouds will appear. (You mean your system uses the internet? Wow!) There's the cake diagram that shows that your system has a bottom layer, a middle layer with a couple more services, and a top layer with yet more distinction. (You used layers in your system? Wow!) Basically, if you are going to show me a diagram, I want to see a diagram that I could not have drawn pretty much before even seeing your system. I've seen a diagram of an AWS deployment of a system that had a couple dozen elements... that actually said something useful about what was connected to what. When you've only got five elements, there just aren't enough possibilities to be a problem worth diagramming in the first place.

The other thing to mention is that medics are trained from an early stage to be able to present their thoughts concisely on a regular basis to impatient senior doctors. 'present your findings' (and 'hurry up') is something a medical student hears at least once a day.

Q - medic = doctor in British(?) Terminology?

Yes. Specifically one who practices medicine rather than surgery (who would be a surgeon).

This guy was a consultant, ie a very senior doctor, and got to do research as a sideline. If the context had been clearer, i would have said "a consultant", but on HN that could mean anything!

I think in the US such people might be called "internists", which is also a weird and confusing term in its own way.

I don't see a field medical technician having grad students, so I would think so


It's a university term really, the students studying Medicine are called medics by everyone else, tend to be very cliquey.

It can come down to how well you know your topic. If the presentation was on how to make a cake then my mother would be able to take to the stage and do the whole thing with zero preparation. She would pop the recipe and the method notes up on the big screen and that would be it. Myself, because I actually would have no idea what I would be doing, I would make up slides for each step in the method summary and still be reading them. Again, my mother would not have to refer to what was on screen.

Actually there is lots of science and craft and history and plenty else in cake making, again, my mother would be able to do all that with open ended questions.

I think that if you have been working with the same clients and the same code for the last few years then you too can present without the presentation, to keep the audience captivated and learning. Vision, focus, enthusiasm all comes into it.

The other part is having presentation skills. Who really likes standing in front of a crowd? This can be learned, however some people go to posh schools that emphasise public speaking and other people go to schools where this is not something that happens. It is a lot easier to stand up and talk in front of a crowd if you have done it every week throughout your childhood than if you have not done it before.

He probably also knew what to focus on, which helps tremendously with any presentation.

For sure; I think for many people that have to make a presentation, the message they want to tell is organized in bulletpoints, and they think of that while making the presentation, adding bulletpoints as they go. The presentation then becomes their own speakers notes, the crutch for their presentation.

The alternative is to, if you need that crutch, write down the presentation in bulletpoints, memorize it, and make an accompanying / illustrative presentation alongside it. That requires a bit more effort and practice though. And if you have enough practice, if you have your message in your head already, along with the structure, you won't need the crutch anymore.

But this is a very specific skill, if you're not doing regular presentations you won't acquire it. There's a lot of people that travel the world doing conference talks, they can reuse the same material a few times if need be, spend more time preparing, and just know their exact message. Getting paid to do presentations instead of having to do it as a side-thing does make a difference.

Even if you build your presentation this way, you can fix it: start again. Use your first presentation as literal speaker notes and just rebuild the while thing, but extract the key ideas, be very limited in writing down any words you want to say, and substitute charts, diagrams or photos wherever possible.

I like the "Guidelines for Creating Presentations" from the Beamer ( https://github.com/josephwright/beamer ) doc. Mostly: don't overdo slides, what you say is more important.


Every time I sit down to work on a presentation, I intentionally recall Cristian's retort [0]:

"We used a helium neon laser, captured its phase shift with a photo sensor, and manually corrected by 30 percent to account for the index of refraction," Cristian answered rapidly, keyed up on adrenaline. Cameron had peppered them with questions on the drive to Santa Barbara, and Cristian was ready.

Swean raised a bushy, graying eyebrow. He asked about motor speed, and Lorenzo sketched out their combination of controllers and spike relays. Oscar answered the question about signal interference in the tether by describing how they'd experimented with a 15-meter cable before jumping up to one that was 33 meters.

"You're very comfortable with the metric system," Swean observed.

"I grew up in Mexico, sir," Oscar said.

Swean nodded. He eyed their rudimentary flip chart.

"Why don't you have a PowerPoint display?" he asked.

"PowerPoint is a distraction," Cristian replied. "People use it when they don't know what to say."

"And you know what to say?"

"Yes, sir."

[0] https://www.wired.com/2014/12/4-mexican-immigrant-kids-cheap...

That's such a great quote! Before I came on board at my current job the teams would occasionally create 350mb (embedded videos, etc), multi-hour PowerPoint presentations used for showing business users what their team had been doing and what was on their road map. Needless to say, attendance to these presentations was abysmal and people would play mobile games and catch up on email for the duration. When I came on we switched to a new system where each lead engineer got 5 index cards and could prepare main points and notes on there, and could otherwise only do live demos of the products for showing things off.

I found that with the PowerPoints they would spend hours on designing the slides, read directly off of them, and often include way, way too much detail for business users. The new system is going great, and I wish I had done that in my college career.

And slightly off-topic: the Carl Hayden story is just so damn awesome. I think the whole story shares some lessons about building a product. I'm looking forward to the movie.

Those things need to be strictly timeboxed. Assume your audience has a 15 minute attention span, maybe per subject / team. If you can summarize it in 15 minutes then you're good. Shorter is even better. Longer might work if you have a really interesting subject, but usually, product demos etc aren't, especially if they're a recurring thing.

NY Times published an update about these kids in 2015 [0]. Basically the US immigration system prevented them from pursuing engineering within the United States. This was before DACA, and they were undocumented. Thus:

> Lorenzo Santillan considered becoming a mechanical engineer, but instead earned a cheaper associate degree in cooking. Today he works as a line cook.

> Luis Aranda studied cooking as well but did not complete a degree and now works as a janitor.

> Cristian Arcega [...] made it to Arizona State University on a scholarship. But [..] Arizona voters passed Proposition 300, an anti-immigrant measure that prohibits undocumented students from receiving any state financial aid or qualifying for in-state tuition — more than tripling his tuition. He dropped out and is now unemployed.

> Oscar Vazquez [got] a scholarship to A.S.U. [...] He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2009 and applied for legal residency [...] but he was also summarily banned from the United States for 10 years for living here without a visa. [...] After a year, his ban was reversed when Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, interceded on his behalf. Mr. Vazquez returned, enlisted in the Army, and served a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan. He is finally a citizen, and repairs trains in Montana for the railroad company BNSF.

[0] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/opinion/the-cruel-waste-o...

I guess I don't really get it... How are powerpoint slides any different than flip chart sheets? It seems to me that either thing can be used illustratively by people who do know what to say, or as a crutch by people who don't.

The cost of editing flip chart sheets is huge in time and inconvenience. It forces me to actually think about them in advance and do them right, rather than the typical powerpoint method of creation; copy some text from a completely unsuitable document, add bullets points and then start removing words.

> typical powerpoint method of creation; copy some text from a completely unsuitable document, add bullets points and then start removing words

A lot of terrible PowerPoint presentations just made sense.

The problem here is you, not the tool.

I quite doubt EliRivers is responsible for all powerpoint presentations across the world.

Their point is that flip chart edition acted as a filter on garbage production, as editing a flip chart is time and labor intensive more time goes into planning and whittling down the amount of stuff to show, as well as into preparing the presentation itself. Powerpoint does the opposite and facilitates the production of huge streams of garbage quickly, resulting in exactly what we can see.

And sure you can still state that it's the user's fault, but here's the thing: the user has been a moron all along, it took your tool for the user's stupidity to become damaging. When your tool empowers stupidity and you refuse to acknowledge basic reality, your tool is at fault.

I guess when everyone uses it, its not cool anymore. The quote "People use it when they don't know what to say." sounds a bit arrogant.

The story doesn't make it clear how the flip chart is being used. Any time I've seen flipcharts used in a presentation, they were not pre-created, but rather blank and the person drew on them while they spoke.

If that was the case in the story, then it would explain how it might be less distracting than pre-made slides.

Although missing this scene their movie is one of the most underrated movies I have ever seen. It has such a low view count and I think it is such a inspirational movie for young adults along with quite a sly humor.


Bezo's reasoning on Amazon's no powerpoint policy: "Well structured, narrative text is what we're after rather than just text. If someone builds a list of bullet points in word, that would be just as bad as powerpoint.

The reason writing a 4 page memo is harder than "writing" a 20 page powerpoint is because the narrative structure of a good memo forces better thought and better understanding of what's more important than what, and how things are related.

Powerpoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the innerconnectedness of ideas."


I don't buy the PowerPoint hate at all.

we are in a time where you plug your computer into a projector. your computer can display anything you want, but I believe most people would still show PowerPoint for a presentation. yes there's a lot of bad presentations out there, there's patterns that make your ppt bad. but that doesn't mean PowerPoint is a bad tool, I think that really just highlights giving a presentation is difficult. PowerPoint may make it seem easy because you can make them fast but making a good one is still difficult

lots of websites suck but we don't blame the web

lots of apps suck but we don't blame the platform

> lots of websites suck but we don't blame the web

> lots of apps suck but we don't blame the platform

Actually, I see both of these things a lot.

  - Powerpoint
    - has
      - terrible
        - default
          - settings

On the other hand, powerpoint has good font size defaults. I haaaaate when people use one of those javascript presentation things (or, shudder, something home grown), because their fonts are ALWAYS[1] too small for me to read (I don't have great eyesight, even with glasses, I can't always read everything at a distance), while powerpoint is typically pretty readable (as long as you have no more than 5 points on a slide... after that, it gets too small)

[1] in my experience thus far

Yeah, this; if you really are going to show code, make it huge. No such thing as too big when it comes to that. Stick to 40 character lines tops and make them fill the whole screen. Prefer to use the full slide for a code example, and put the most important thing at the top of the screen (usually the bottom half of a presentation / beamer screen is unreadable)

The default presentation structure of PowerPoint makes it very easy to build bad bullet point presentations. One could argue that means PowerPoint has bad default settings and thus is not a very good tool.

At least with Powerpoint you can also do it right.

I wonder what all those "programmer-friendly presentations" creators are thinking who are proud to use Markdown. In Markdown you are forced to do bullet points.

> In Markdown you are forced to do bullet points.

Uhm, no, you are not.

Anecdotally, I would say that non-ppt presentations are of higher quality. Obviously, it's possible to do a bad presentation regardless of the tool, but the really bad ones are always done with PowerPoint. I'm honestly not sure whether it's because of the program or the type of people who use it. Probably a bit of both.

My son is finally to the age where he needs to submit/present PowerPoint presentations for homework assignments. After walking him through the best practices for presenting + making sure his presentation was ship-shape, he received a C. His teacher sent a rubrick for the next assignment with criteria like: must have at least one animated transition; must use at least two backgrounds; must use at least 3 text animations; must not be in outline format; use complete sentences.

I was floored, but in the end explained to him that he's doing something for a grade, not for it to be good, and that there is a right and wrong way to do a PowerPoint presentation.

A little bit of my soul died when I read that. Teaching how to convey information is so difficult and especially to children, because they don't have the exposure to other examples to refer to what worked and what didn't. Add to this that children are often taught to not question what teachers teach is a recipe for disaster.

I'm not surprised at all. My observation has been that teachers - even ones who are brilliantly good as teachers - are abysmal PowerPoint users. Every one I've seen has made the same kind of mistakes:

  - Way too many slides for the time available
  - Numerous slides that with both paragraphs of text and elaborate diagrams
  - Slides that cannot be read at all by the audience because everything is too small
  - Reading verbatim from slides in the presentation
  - A firehouse of information that is impossible to remember or even follow
  - Zero narrative flow, no sense of what are key points
[edit: fix formatting]

They were teaching him how to use powerpoint's features and get used to finding things. Making it good with those limitations would leverage the creative aspect.

It wasn't about making a cookie cutter corporate presentation that doesn't make you look out of touch.

That is a microcosm for how awful (and non-educating) school can be.

Maybe present yourself as a seasoned presenter and business veteran and offer to help the teacher prepare a top-notch lesson plan for next year's PP segment?

I cause enough trouble at school as it is.

The teacher is probably also just using a formula, judging the presentation by technical points instead of contents or as a thing to make the actual presentation better. A shame, I'm sure your son will be able to do presentations that aren't judged by technical points soon enough.

It's not a Powerpoint problem, but a presenter problem. Slides should be short and concise with a few words or graphics. If someone can read a presenters slides, and understand the presentation then too much was put on the slides.

Or, as my public speaking instructor put it: reading is faster than listening. If I can read what you are going to say, then why are you here? I'd rather just read it.

To some extent, people could also just watch the recording online, and skip through the boring content. When I attend a presentation, it's usually to engage with the speaker and with other people in the room. Powerpoint or not, if the speaker is just reading an overly rehearsed script, I'll probably fall asleep.

I'd rather read. Skipping over video is an exercise in frustratingly watching snippets to see if you've overshot or not.

What you want to read then is the transcript of the presentation along with slides to follow along.

Yeah, that would be pretty good.

Although, having said that, I find a written article is usually better written than a transcript of spoken language, since spoken language tends to go off point or include filler or whatever, while written articles are generally better edited. But transcript + slides are pretty good, when available.

I am surprised there isn’t more on this in this thread:

Persuasion is the center-piece of business activity.

One of the most powerful ways to persuade is through storytelling. Well storytelling is central to our social and cultural experience. No wonder that it finds its way in our work — esp work at big companies (more humans = more social, cultural). Most presentations, discussions or meetings are exercises in persuasion via storytelling.

For years stories are told with theatrics or embellishment. That’s PowerPoint.

In the hands of a good storyteller — someone who has something to say and a compelling way to say it — PowerPoint will seem like a great tool. Conversely, the tool will suck (in the same way a guitar sucks when i play it, but becomes magical in the hands of jimmy page :))

Now, as a storytelling tool — just the fact that PowerPoint has found its way into a Billion computers — is astounding. Probably makes it one of the most useful tools invented!

People forget that especially in the business world PowerPoint presentations are not only used for presenting content but also as a medium of distribution.

The author presumably does not see need to assamble two sets of the content and just uses the same slides intended for presentation also as handout - resulting in eiter an overloaded presentation or useless handouts.

I try to avoid that by integrating all necessary background info in the presentation but skip that during the presentation and only display it if asked for.

I think this very fact may be part of the issue. The slides may serve multiple purposes: (1) Notes for the presenter, (2) visuals, text for the viewer, and (3) a document for the person who found it via Google. They thus end up being a compromise at all of them.

In the ideal world, there would be three separate documents for the above, but PowerPoint is good enough at all of them that we tend to just create a single document that does all three.

Yeah. But these are two different exercises. You have on screen presentations on one side, which is probably less than 5% of the use of powerpoint in large companies, and pitchbooks which are probably like 95%.

Pitchbooks are never meant to be shown on-screen. They are paper handouts (or on-screen on a tablet or PC). They are as much a visual aid for the meeting for charts and bullet points, than a take away to avoid people having to take notes. It de facto replaced word documents in large companies outside of a few formal documents.

So it has to be concise enough to be efficient. The rule of thumb is that you should be able to read the title and subtitle of every slide only and get the message that the pitch carries. It should have an executive summary that serves the same purpose. But it needs to be detailed enough, with an appendix and footnotes, for someone who didn't attend to get all the important details.

I wish that was the case at my company. I'm required to create slide decks that are supposed to be usable as presentations and can stand alone without anyone presenting them. I don't think it's actually possible.

Anyone reminded of Alan Kay's way of presenting with Smalltalk? He always takes a moment to point out how horribly limiting PowerPoint is too.

I recall reading about another alternative OS where the "desktop" was a zoomable canvas and files were opened by zooming in far enough. Presentations on that machine apparent were a simple matter or aligning files next to each other and scrolling.

I've watched a presentation done with an app that works like this and it's nauseating. All the zooming in and out gave me a headache. It was literally one of the worst presentations I've ever viewed.

I am assuming you are referring to Prezi. I agree that Prezi is one of the worst presentation software out there. Both presenting, viewing, and creating one of those presentations is the worst.

I think the main issue with Prezi-style presentations is that it demands too much skill to use properly. A better interface with sensible defaults and much less emphasis on wow-factor would help a lot here.

Normal powerpoint "only" requires a basic awareness of composition and narrative coherence, which already is too much to ask in practice. To make good Prezi presentation you need to have the skills of a cinematographer/editor. Specifically, the skill of continuity editing[0] so your audience can follow what is going on.

What we want is the calm, easy to read compositions of, say, Yasujirō Ozu or Wes Anderson, and Akira Kurasowa's sense of movement[1][2]. Instead everyone uses it in a way that it feels more like the worst aspects of Bayhem[3].

I still believe Prezi-like presentation tools have the potential to be good, because they could be used to map relationships in your narrative to spatial relationships. But that would require a) that you are aware of those relationships yourself and b) that you posses the skills to translate that into spatial compositions that are coherent.

This is obviously an unrealistic demand, so instead the tools should assist you with that. It needs is an interface that helps users structure their story, with sensible default conversions. Maybe something like Treesheets[4], where you can create a tree-based hierarchy in your topics, and then a conversion of that to a spatial hierarchy that is easy to follow, and not a distraction from the actual narrative.

The vertical slides in reveal.js are a step in the right direction, starting from the powerpoint side of the spectrum[5]. What we need a step in the right direction of the free-flowing Prezi side of presentations. At some point there will be a happy middle ground.

EDIT: Maybe we should all just work our way through Pixar's storytelling course on Khan Academy[6]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continuity_editing

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbXRpiVO1po

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2THVvshvq0Q

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doaQC-S8de8

[4] http://strlen.com/treesheets/

[5] http://lab.hakim.se/reveal-js/#/

[6] https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/pixar/storytelli...

Maybe the Oberon project Bluebottle OS[1] / AOS / A2? It's a ZUI[2] desktop. There seem to be only very few example videos[3] online.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluebottle_OS [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zooming_user_interface [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe0ZdzO_urU

That was it! Thank you! I thought it was something to do with Oberon but just searching for that turned up nothing. Thanks to your hint I found the post where I read about it:


The referenced rant at the beginning is now off-line, but still available through archive.org:


Now, I'm not saying Bluebottle is great to work with, but the idea is interesting, and I think some of the good bits could be made to work better with modern IxD sensibilities applied to it, especially with touch-screens.

A friend of mine made interactive slides with Haskell: https://youtu.be/2kKvVe673MA

Also a blog post about it (although broken at the moment?) https://www.joachim-breitner.de/blog/729-Compose_Conference_...

> Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.

Sadly not in the Wayback archives either :/

The overview page works: https://www.joachim-breitner.de/blog

You can scroll down to "Compose Conference talk video online" to read the article I linked to.

Edit: Joachim fixed it.

Have you got an example of Alan Kay's use of smalltalk for presenting? I'm quite curious how it would look - my googling turned up a few videos but nothing particularly out of the ordinary (indeed it wasn't even obvious that he wasn't using powerpoint)

In this video, around the 38 minute mark, he shows a video in a slide, and I believe a few "slides" later runs a bridge simulation:


(I can't watch this with sound right now, so I'm not sure if he mentions using SmallTalk to present here)

But as you can see, you're right: it's not obvious at all. Despite the valid complaints raised in the linked article, the structure imposed by slides is helpful in its simplicity; plus the audience knows how to "read" them, which is also important.

The point however is that he doesn't need special software, SmallTalk is kind of set up to let you do everything PowerPoint does. On top of that he has the ability to integrate scripted stuff to his presentations because, SmallTalk is by definition a live coding environment.

This does require mastery of the language and its Morphic UI Framework[0]. But on the other hand: that is one of the biggest reasons to learn SmallTalk (or Squeak) anyway.

TBH, I'm talking from a purely theoretical perspective. I've tried and failed to dive into Pharo a few times[1]. But its live coding aspects have always fascinated me, and Moose and Mondrian look like pretty interesting tools for dataviz too [2][3][4].

[0] http://stephane.ducasse.free.fr/FreeBooks/CollectiveNBlueBoo...

[1] http://pharo.org/

[2] https://vimeo.com/97315968

[3] http://www.moosetechnology.org/

[4] http://pharobooks.gforge.inria.fr/PharoByExampleTwo-Eng/late...

Amazing - thanks for taking the time to dig all this out! I'm going to enjoy going through these links

Sounds a lot like Prezi

Do you have an example? I'm interested.

sounds like Pad++ from UMD ... http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/pad++/

Wasn't what I had in mind, but thanks for that! I'm interested in the history of UI experimentation, and this looks interesting.

We use power point to prototype our UIs. It's actually quite powerful and works surprisingly well given that we don't usually go into complex workflows when prototyping. I don't think I've seen a better commercial product for throwing something together real quick.

I have used Power Point for a long time as my go to "image composition tool".

You know, when you just want to annotate a photo or a map, or superimpose a few images on each other (like for quick workplace jokes)

It is the fastest tool I found to do these sorts of quick and dirty jobs. I call it "PowerShoping" =)

I had a colleague that did that too, either with Powerpoint or MacOS' version; he used it to create pretty complex graphics and everything with it.

This is an interesting idea. How does that work, exactly?

Edit - nevermind, I guess I'm the only one in the dark [1][2].

[1] https://medium.com/unqut-inc/ui-design-rapid-prototyping-in-...

[2] http://keynotopia.com/guides-ppt/

That's funny. I thought we were so clever because as far as I know we just tried it one day and it worked really well. I guess others had the same idea :)

When the IEEE article was posted last week, I followed a link to a book written by one of the developers of the original PowerPoint. I got very little work done that Friday, but it was very interesting, particularly thinking about the difference between OHPs and 35mm slides.


I'd like to hear Robert Gaskins give a TED talk. I emailed him to ask if he also wants to, and if he's willing then I think we can nominate him through the TED website. It's quite meta, because I think TED would never really exist without PowerPoint.


I generally avoid power points - but I think the hate is misplaced. The reason people put detail in power points is because there is no expectation of prior reading/review/preparation from an audience. It makes things worse with a remote work culture where a power point gets treated as a "summary".

This article has too small font, too many words, I lost interest part way through. Is there a presentation somewhere that covers the authors' main points? Thanks.

:) j/k

PowerPoint is an accessible mode of persuasion. The journal articles is a more elite mode.

The massive wall of text with long paragraphs; the numbered footnotes; the long list of references that nobody will read; the availability of a PDF as a kind of indicator that the material is printworthy and serious; the obsessive numbering of pictures as "figures"; the use of academic shibboleths like contextualize, performative, forms of sociality, critique, etc; the refusal to summarize an argument; the namedropping of historical studies to give an impression of endless scholarly depth; the vaguely critical attitude that carefully avoids explicit moral judgments; the long-winded "narrative" form like a New Yorker reportage mixed with excerpts from monographs and textbooks.

McLuhan once said that when reading texts for research, he skips the odd pages and only reads the even ones, because he had observed "a huge amount of redundancy in texts" and that having to fill out the remaining pages with his imagination kept him alert and wakeful...

This article, which I enjoyed skimming, if you think about in terms of "the medium being the message", seems like a piece of advocacy for literate print culture. The authors mention designing and inventing new and interesting forms of communication and persuasion beyond PowerPoint—but their own choice of form is highly conservative.

The words are pretty much par for the course in academic writing.

That font, though, is inexcusable.


Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

> I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

> Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one.

"It has likely been used to raise more money than any other tool in history."

Hmm, I'm going to have to think for all of 2 seconds and say I can't see a way of interpreting "used to raise more money" such that powerpoint is going to come in ahead of the pen.

And the hyperbole continue. "Are we really thinking here or is this just so much pointing and clicking." https://www.allposters.com/-sp/Are-we-thinking-here-or-is-th...

It would seem the author wishes to blame a tool for their own failings..?

I know it's fun and easy to bash PowerPoint but I strongly believe it has its merits. I guess, as a strategy consultant I have to say so :) As there are ways to properly structure a text document, there are ways to properly use PowerPoint. E.g., for detailed management briefings, a PowerPoint, if done right, allows the reader to get the main messages within minutes but also allows for in-depth reading of key points. Typically, such presentations would be structured results/recommendations-first [1] and using the assertion/evidence model [2]

[1] Most people structure their PowerPoints sequentially ("we started doing this, then we did that..."). In most cases it is better to start with the final outcome ("we recommend doing x") and then provide all the required backing

[2] State the learning from the slide in the title and present the required evidence in the content part. This allows people to just skim all the titles and get the full story but also dive deep where needed

Edit: To be precise: such presentations are not intended to entertain. They are a tool to guide people as effectively as possible through complex content and allow pre-reading / post-reading

Personally I like to be able to keep presentations really really short and dense by showing a live demo, gifs, or pictures.

.. I think when pp presentations start having text or bullet points is when it starts to go wrong.

I always use the mantra that power points should only be used when you need to show something you can't draw in 5 seconds.

If it's not strictly needed, then it does more harm than good, by distracting listeners.

Limit presentations to 10 slides. This works for VC pitches. It should probably work for anything.

Guy Kawasaki even has his 10 20 30 rule [1]. 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30 point font.

I had a writing assignment once in college. The limit was 1000 words. And then there was a list of points we had to address. Enforced brevity was the challenge.

On the other end of the spectrum, there's David Byrne I Heart Powerpoint [2] which I had the pleasure to see at Berkeley. He's mentioned in the article.

[1] https://guykawasaki.com/the_102030_rule/

[2] http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt1.html.

“By inadvertently privileging the relationships between personal computing and networked forms of sociality...”

What a bunch of gibberish.

It's not gibberish. The meaning is clear. In English, you would say, "We got sidetracked by the rise of social media platforms and forget that people do other stuff with computers." There's a difference between gibberish and obfuscation, a difference upon which hangs tenure.

Is that what that meant? Must admit I couldn’t parse it.

I think one point that sometimes gets overlooked is that there are different types of presentations. For example, a set of slides that are designed to accompany lectures for a course on partial differential equations should be very different from a set of slides designed to pitch a business idea, especially if the lecture slides are intended to also serve as notes/textbook.

The text on this site is confined to a very narrow column that is about 15% the width of my display. Whatever point the author has about the goodness or badness of PowerPoint as way to present is diminished thanks to the site's inability to present its own content.

I understand the powerpoint hate, but seriously when you are presenting data plots you dont want to draw it. You want to show the data. Another benefit of slides are that researchers post them on the internets, with presenter notes. These are often very informative.

> when ... presenting data plots you dont wnat to draw it. You want to show the data.

I agree with you whole-heartedly. The criticism of powerpoint is not so much it's broader context. There are plenty of ways to present structured data with computers promoting good-practices. The criticism is that Powerpoint doesn't encourage people to show the data in the first place.

TL;DR: This issue isn't what Powerpoint can do, it is what it nudges people to do.

How does the community feel about well-presented talks using very few or none slides?

I kind of feel that even in tech, you would come across as unprepared or "lazy" for not having slides/PowerPoint

I was invited to a speech night for the class of my 8 year old daughter. Members of the class were to do a "multi modal" presentation on subjects ranging from global warming to their favourite band.

It was sad to see that most of the kids had PowerPoint decks full of words that they just stood and read.

Of the class of about 25 kids only a very few did something different.

A couple didn't use the screen at all, choosing to do a "show and tell" style of presentation showing relevant objects. The "My favourite Band" girl, talked about her band whilst playing a recording, and a couple gave their talk unassisted (well maybe palm cards) whilst referring to well selected pictures on the screen.

I can still remember the talk about the impact of tropical storms (not my daughters) because of the well selected dramatic images that were used to emphasise the points made in the talk.

PowerPoint presentations are not necessary bad, but use the tool for what it's best at, that is displaying information that cannot be displayed either in a written report or verbally. Use it to support what you are saying, not be what you are saying. If you do this the people in the room actually have to listen to you, not sit there reading the screen, and let's face it, in most cases you want them concentrating on you, otherwise what are you their for?

> "well-presented talks"

You are answering the question for us. If it's well-presented, of course we will think it's well-presented.

The thing is, a well-presented talk is usually always well-prepared. Very few people can present well without preparation.

The thing is, PowerPoint gets a bad rap because their are a lot of ill-prepared speakers out there. And the reason there is a lot of ill-prepared speakers is because preparing a good presentation is hard and time consuming. Just practicing the talk takes as long as the talk. And then reviewing the talk takes an equal amount of time. So, for you to practice one 30 minute talk, you have multiple 1-hour sessions at a minimum (assuming you can stick that 30 minute limit the first time, which rarely happens).

How many people do you know spend that much time just practicing and reviewing their talks?

The other thing is, tech talks are usually talking about something specific involving code or architecture, and while a talk doesn't always need slides, in the tech world, it usually does. This is because without slides, you need to rely on the concept that you are trying to get across, and you can't focus on specifics. Sure, you can provide a reference slide at the end, but it's hard. And it's hard on the audience as well. And chances are, you aren't good enough to pull it off.

So slides are there to help the audience as well. Not everyone learns the same way (Side note: this is why people who complain about video-based tutorials being worse than pure text piss me off, people learn better in different ways, and the reason text was used for so long was because creating video was much more costly), so using pictures and images can really help hammer the point home.

But it's hard. And a lot of speakers don't speak frequently enough to get good at it, because like anything, it takes practice.

In the end, if someone thinks not using slides will make them a better speaker, they probably aren't good enough to not use slides.

The challenge is that your talk has to be _really_ good to get viewed, because most people will want to skim the slide deck before deciding whether or not to watch it.

I quite like Ed Kmett's talks that often consist of him typing into his editor at an incredible rate while talking about everything. It works because he's an uncommonly swift typist and can write it all off the top of his head.

I think that to pull it off, you need to convey the impression that you're too important and busy to create PP slides, and that you're showing stuff that's just so urgent and great that you didn't want to make them wait for a PP.

Also, practice will improve your ability to give those presentations, so it's worth practicing on low profile meetings before doing it in front of the CEO.

I remember a presentation by Martin Fowler which was without slides - talking extempore about his latest thinking on software development - and very engaging it was too!

I've found doitlive is a good way to give a quick, non-interactive talk, for example, where you know you won't have time to answers questions from the audience.

I used a proto-doitlive, which inspired the actual doitlive, to present a lightning talk on Mercurial revsets:


I wish this website was summarized in a few slides.

If you want to see what a good powerpoint looks like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3RnDD4kETI

Bad powerpoints are bad, and good powerpoints are good. They're a useful tool. If they're used well, then they help the talk.

(This is also a excellent talk. I recommend watching it.)

If only Lincoln has PowerPoint


Did you not see this example in the article? What's your point?

> the box-shaped selection tool that allows speakers to select a portion of the slide for public display is hidden from the audience

What tool is this? I am unfamiliar

I don't get the PowerPoint hate. You can have a wonderful presentation while having PowerPoint slides. As an additional benefit, your audience can keep the presentation PDF which makes it easier for them to remember the cornerstones of the talk.

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