The problems of PowerPoint

In his new, 24-page book, Ed Tufte takes on PowerPoint:

Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?

I pretty much hate PowerPoint. My previous employer required me to use it, along with some pretty awful templates and it made me miserable.

It’s great for showing graphs of data (although PowerPoint’s default graph styles suck audibly), illustrations (although its clip art appears to be scanned from Pennysaver), and the occasional Big Idea to large audiences. But the typical cascade of bullet points and long sentences in tiny type are mind-numbing.

PowerPoint also comes with a set of templates that are staggeringly amateurish, ugly, and distracting. Apple Keynote’s biggest advantage over Powerpoint is its simple, attractive templates that force presenters to focus on the content and not on dissolves and animations. I’m not sure that understands the core problems that plague Powerpoint when it says,

For presenters who need only basic slideshow-building functionality, Keynote is a nice program and a good alternative to Microsoft PowerPoint X. But advanced users will feel restricted. Apple does not offer much in its stock photo library, there are no interactivity features, such as buttons or links, and there are many nice-to-have features missing from the text, chart and multimedia areas – features that PowerPoint users have come to expect.

In the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, PowerPoint can produce great results. I’ve seen wonderful PowerPoint presentations by Paul Saffo and Larry Lessig. But these guys are brilliant and could get great results with a whiteboard. The rest of us are more likely to shoot ourselves in the foot.

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