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Post Power-Point Trauma Syndrome

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Have you ever sat through and silently suffered during a PowerPoint presentation?

Most likely, you have more than a few times. Together with ten other teachers, I have been asked (or is it told?) to do a PowerPoint presentation about my History elective subject for secondary level students at the international school where I teach, near Barcelona.

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I will not do it.

The accepted "wisdom" is that in business (and therefore schools too, because money-makers know best) you use PowerPoint as automatically as you put on a suit and tie. It is generally taken as a given that "PP" is the best way to explain things to a group of people.

PowerPoint is probably the world's most popular business "tool." Undoubtedly, it misused by many, but I (along with increasing numbers of its victims) say it is by design, bad for communication.

Seemingly, there are a few brave souls who dare to go against the conventional idea that PowerPoint is "the way it's done.' And they are not only from audiences who have sat through too many uninspiring and confusing "PP' presentations.

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One director of a large medical company admits: "a presentation (in whatever form) is telling a story, and stories require careful assembly. Yet, to the uninitiated or those who simply don't know to ask, PowerPoint by itself is a device that reinforces bad habits."

Others see different reasons for avoiding PP.

Richard Rumelt, a professor of strategy at UCLA's Anderson School of Management in the US has been quoted saying that: "If I had my way, small groups"would be absolutely prohibited from doing PowerPoint presentations! Using bullet points so much drives out thinking. If you ask a group to put aside the bullet points and just write three coherent paragraphs about what is changing in an industry and why, the difference is incredible. Having to link your thoughts, giving reasons and qualifications, makes you a more careful thinker -- and a better communicator."

Les Posen, a workplace training psychologist gives the damning examples of former US Secretary of State Colin Powell visiting the United Nations and offering them a PowerPoint-based reason to invade Iraq as well as a report that condemns NASA reliance on PowerPoint's and its contribution to the Challenger disaster.

PowerPoint's ability to bewilder its prey was also recently highlighted by US television comedian Jon Stewart when he satirised the PP slide that is supposed to "map out" the complex US military strategy in Afghanistan.

General Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces there was quoted in a New York Times article last month saying "When we understand that slide, we'll have won the war!"

But there are other drawbacks to PowerPoint too. A different comment from a tertiary educator makes the point that: ""students whose [writing] contained lots of 'relational' language ([such as] because, before, consequently) did not use those words in their PP presentations - as a result, causation dropped out of the communication."

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So, if there are fundamental flaws in PP because it generally creates a confusing style of communication, I ask the question: What does the typical PowerPoint text actually try to say?

Here's my own example:


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Brett Hetherington is a freelance writer and teacher living in Catalonia, northern Spain. Some of his work can be found in The Australian Journalism Review, Barcelona Metropolitan, Catalonia Today, Reportage magazine, OpEd News and the Costa Brava (more...)

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