At this point, we’ve all experienced “death by Powerpoint.”
All of my college students seem to have learned how to use PowerPoint in high school or earlier — yes, they live in a world in which “MS Word” has always existed, like sliced bread — and all but assume that putting together a PowerPoint is part of doing an oral presentation. I limit them to using five slides and encourage more graphics and less text. Still, there’s always someone who equates “use fewer slides” with “put more onto them than the human eye can decode.” Next fall, when informing students about oral presentations for a Classical Mythology class, I’m planning to note that two of the best presentations I’ve seen both did not use Powerpoint:
- One student did a fabulous presentation about Norse cosmology myths using nothing more than a dry erase marker to draw a few things on the white board.
- Another student used a good old-fashioned poster board to discuss ancient Roman adoption laws. She didn’t just paste photos of ancient Roman children or some such on the poster board, but integrated it into her presentation, which took the form of a game show.
In both cases, what really carried the presentations was the students’ public speaking skills and their interaction with their audience. In my experience, the latter especially tends to get overlooked when PowerPoint is used, as students rely too much on their pre-made slides to carry their presentation.
As the Chronicle of Higher Education notes, Matthias Poehm, a public-speaking trainer from Switzerland is going a step further than limiting people to only five slides per presentation. He’s formed a new political party the Anti-PowerPoint Party, or APPP, which “seeks to put a referendum on the Swiss ballot that would ban PowerPoint presentations. ” Poehm says that PowerPoint is costing Switzerland $2.5-billion and the rest of Europe an estimated $160-billion annually in “lost productivity”; his hope is nothing less than starting a “global campaign against not just PowerPoint but against all presentation software.”
Yes, Keynote, don’t think you’re safe just because your templates are prettier!
More from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
“In some countries students and pupils are punished with a lower mark, if they give a presentation without PowerPoint,” his fledgling party asserts on its Web site (which prominently features advertisements for Mr. Poehm’s book, The PowerPoint Fallacy). “In the future, those in companies, congresses, universities, schools, who want to renounce PowerPoint should not have to justify themselves any longer.”
Mr. Poehm is not the first to point out PowerPoint’s kryptonite-like qualities. A study reported in 2009 by psychology researchers at the University of Central Lancashire found that 59 percent of college students find their lectures boring at least half of the time. PowerPoint was named as the key culprit.
And last year The New York Times reported Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s reaction to aparticularly confusing PowerPoint diagram depicting U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan: “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”
Poehm isn’t anti-presentation and is calling for the increased use of flip charts.
Of course, if the presenter does not have a sufficiently engaging delivery, it’s likely that no PowerPoint, flip chart, poster board, etc. can save the day. Still, I do see some increment of my students’ attention shut down, or at least go on sleep mode, when certain now-quite-familiar PowerPoint slide backgrounds appear, not to mention a bullet-pointed list. Perhaps it’s time to let PowerPoint wither away and, instead of teaching students how to add animations and resize graphics (all of which they can figure out on their own, anyways), give them a good refresher (or a first-learn-ever) about the sorts of skills an orator of the likes of the ancient Roman Cicero drew on. These included memory and being able to use rhetorical figures of pathos to move and sway the emotions of your audience.
After all, Cicero was pretty effective in his day — and he was speaking in Latin with no visual aids to speak of.
The video below features Poehm himself speaking about his anti-PowerPoint-platform.
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Photo by Ed Yourdon