Home > rant > Powerpoint kills me from within my soul

Powerpoint kills me from within my soul

April 19, 2012

If you are anything like me, the beginning of a meeting where there are powerpoint slides is physically painful. I’m a napper, too, so especially after lunch, the urge to put  my head on a conference table and start snoring is overwhelming.

Because I know what’s going to happen.

Namely, there’s gonna be waaaay too much stuff on each slide and there’s going to be a speaker who is really proud of their soul-wizening presentation.

My eyes glaze over when there are sub-bullets and small fonts, and especially when the slide is sectioned off into subslides.

Why is this allowed to happen?!

People. If there are more than three ideas in your slide, that’s too much. If there’s more than a title and three phrases, that’s too much. If any of your phrases is longer than the line and wraps around, that’s too long, and your font should be really big so everyone can read it.

My preference is to have exactly one phrase on each slide. Otherwise everyone in the room is reading shit the speaker hasn’t gotten to. Except for the people pretending not to be asleep, who are totally disengaged and/or praying to die.

Categories: rant
  1. Deane
    April 19, 2012 at 6:50 am

    I have recently decided to return to using blackboard and chalk for my talks. However, I have to say that despite the many shortcomings of using slides (PowerPoint or Beamer) for math talks, I do have the impression that they have caused the overall quality of math talks to become much better. For one thing, most people do seem to have learned to put fewer lines on each slide. For another, by preparing slides in advance, people are forced to actually plan somewhat carefully what they are going to talk about. Finally, most have learned that the only proofs that can be presented via slides are the shortest simplest ones. So talks have become more focused on background, context, and ideas rather than mind-numbing steps of proofs.


  2. JSE
    April 19, 2012 at 7:54 am

    The really disturbing thing is that, according to the title of your post, Powerpoint is INSIDE YOUR SOUL.


  3. Matt LaMantia
    April 19, 2012 at 10:07 am

    One of my guidelines for making presentations is that, for each slide, you should ask yourself, “can I possibly express or exemplify this point using a data-rich diagram or graph?” Then get rid of the words altogether, and substitute a picture, which you can speak to using the original bullet points, which are now on your notes instead of on the slide. Meanwhile, as you talk, the data you’re showing can actually speak to and amplify your points, rather than detracting.


  4. madalife
    April 19, 2012 at 10:35 am

    It’s time to join the anti-PowerPoint Party http://www.anti-powerpoint-party.com


  5. April 19, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Let me tell you, this post made my day. Powerpoint is truly the Whore of Babylon. It destroys not only your soul but kills off brain cells at an alarming rate. As to the ‘…urge to put your head on a conference table..’ I’m surprised you are not compelled to put your head in guillotine. I believe that Powerpoint recently won the Pulitzer Prize for ugly. If it were a person we’d be concerned about its lack of affect, glazed-over eyes and inability to make connections with people. Those totally disengaged people you mention, they are not praying to die, they’re already dead.


  6. jim
    April 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    No. Not three ideas per slide. ONE idea per slide. And one slide per idea, too.

    When I taught, I had my students do presentations, so early in the semester had about a half-hour pitch on how to do powerpoint right. I gave them some rules, the 10-20-30 rule, for example: no more than ten slides, no longer than twenty minutes, no smaller than 30 point text (“the people at the back of the room have to be able to see”). I told them it was OK if the screen went blank. If you can’t come up with a slide that will improve what you’re saying, don’t put one up. What’s improvement? Emphasis: this is an important fact I want you to take away. Illustration: here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Augmentation: there’s no way I’m going to be able to describe this, you have to see it for yourself. I showed them some clips from TED talks of people using powerpoint well. I closed with the warning that there was a strong antipattern of thinking the slides are there for the speaker, as a script or at least notes to tell him what to say. I had a photo from some conference of a guy with his back to the audience reading a long paragraph off his slide. There was someone else on the panel caught in the photo with a look of excruciating boredom on his face. “Don’t be like him.”

    But it didn’t do much good. It seemed to have an effect on the first few presenters. But by the second half of the semester, they were back to their old habits.


    • April 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Agreed! All my best talks have exactly one phrase or picture per slide.


  7. Becky Jaffe
    April 20, 2012 at 4:29 am

    You might enjoy Edward Tufte’s critique of PowerPoint: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Tufte#Criticism_of_PowerPoint


  8. Chris
    April 21, 2012 at 7:55 pm
  9. Jay
    April 22, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    There is a second type of slide, one that should be as complex as possible.

    It is not intended to communicate its content. It is intended to communicate the idea that whatever the speaker is talking about is very complicated, and the speaker has done his homework, and the speaker’s bosses should resist the urge to meddle with things that they do not understand.


  10. HiHo
    May 1, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    How do written words with a background kill you from within your soul? You must be against books. And learning. Definitely you are against learning.


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