top of page

It’s Time To Ditch The PowerPoint

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

PowerPoint, the infamous Microsoft presentation software, has changed how we present information in many spheres of everyday life.



“PowerPoint’s convenience for some presenters is costly to the content and the audience.”


What can members do?


The software first picked up in 1987, replacing transparencies (transparent sheets onto which data could be drawn or printed for use with an overhead projector) to present information to groups of people. As a result, PowerPoint has made it easier to present information in an accessible, concise and customisable manner.


However, recent studies, notably those by Harvard, suggest that PowerPoint might not be the best way to present information anymore. Some go as far as to say that intuitively, anecdotally, and scientifically, PowerPoint may be the worst business tool ever created. As a result, leading entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Jack Dorsey have decided to ditch the presentation software altogether. Yet, with over 500 million users, PowerPoint forms a fundamental part of many business operations and communication practices, but it might be time to find a more effective form of presentation.


Gone are the days of creating presentations from scratch.


Do It Yourself… Kind of?


As many users know, PowerPoint is notorious for its efficiency and extensive presentation templates and frameworks. Many companies have even gone as far as to create large databases of presentation frameworks from which employees can recycle. All that one needs to do is manipulate the data and specific arguments of a similar presentation, and voila, a new PowerPoint presentation!


Gone are the days of creating presentations from scratch. Instead, many users employ numerous ready-made templates to speed up the design process and increase their ‘productive output’ with minimal creative and cognitive input.

The use of templates and the copy-paste culture that PowerPoint presentations have created has led to decreased levels of engagement with the content and design. Instead, “it enables one to demonstrate one’s creative talent” rather than their ability to present a coherent and compelling argument.


PowerPoint presentations have moved away from their primary purpose of being a visual aid to oral presentations in an easily accessible form to a performance of competence and creativity. Franck Frommer, the author of How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid (2012), goes on to say that “it is not any elements of content that might convince [the audience], but the staging of the expertise”.


Robert Gaskins, the creator of PowerPoint, has even gone on to say that he disagrees with the current use of the software. He says the overuse of animations and visual effects that the software programme has made so accessible to its users have become almost offensive in their overuse. It is essential to note this change in its use as “effects are of little use in a lecture or an argument”, yet the flashy graphics and seductive showmanship seem to have replaced the programme’s primary purpose. In short, Gaskins postulates that “the emphasis should be more matter with less art.”



PowerPoint Rhetoric



PowerPoint’s celebrated ease and efficiency mask a profoundly disturbing but little-understood transformation in human communication.


“The slides, bulleted lists, and flashy graphics we all now take for granted [have] promoted a new slippery, ‘grammar’, where faulty causality, sloppy logic, decontextualised data, and seductive showmanship have replaced the traditional tools of persuasion and argument [resulting in] the corruption of language [and] the dumbing down of society.”


PowerPoint presentations make use of various presentation tools that “favour a mode of communication in which words seem emptied of any substance”. The use of lists, bullet points, and specific grammatical and linguistic techniques has completely changed how people communicate and present their arguments.


According to Frommer, the shortcuts and simplifications of language enable the designer to relieve themselves of the burden of using critical thinking tools to properly develop their argument under the guise of speed and efficiency. PowerPoint presentations have become a tool to summarise larger documents into a presentable format rather than a visual aid to solid oral presentations. The Harvard study on PowerPoint has noted that PowerPoint is no more effective than an oral presentation, and in many cases, it is worse.


The continued use and efficiency of PowerPoint presentations has birthed a new mode of communication – PowerPoint rhetoric. Consequently, the linguistic changes that the continued use of PowerPoint created have led to a culture of brevity over compelling storytelling and ambiguity over definitive coherent statements.


The primary rhetorical device that PowerPoint commonly uses in presentations is the bullet point. Bullet points, while useful for conciseness, create discontinuity and ambiguity in an argument. It is impossible to portray the relationships between pieces of information in bullet point form due to the linear hierarchy that lists subconsciously create. This lack of continuity, and positioning of points on a slide, can create ambiguities in the interpretation of critical points unless the speaker does an excellent job of verbalising the argument.


Now what?


It’s 2021. PowerPoint was a tool created in the 80s to make presentations more accessible to larger groups of people. Presentations are still an effective form of sharing information; however, the artistic and rhetorical takeover from PowerPoint users has completely changed how we view presentations and their functions.


Research has shown that showing the audience the same content that is being spoken is not an efficient presentation format, reducing audience comprehension. The same goes for overpopulating a presentation with flashy graphics and animations instead of providing useful definitions and visual aids that add to the argument instead of detracting from it.


The study by Harvard suggests using a ZUI (Zoomable User Interface) like Prezi is more effective than a standard PowerPoint presentation. ZUIs like Prezi are great presentation aids because they give an overview of the entire presentation while still incorporating enough detail and visual stimulation to keep the audience engaged. Furthermore, the spatial arrangement of Prezi presentations and the zoom feature allows the audience to visualise the relationships between key points in an argument. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the linear, fragmented layout of most PowerPoint presentations.


A comparative study between PowerPoint and Prezi found that Prezi is 12.5% more organised, 16.4% more engaging, 21.9% more persuasive, and 25.3% more effective than PowerPoint. This is because Prezi values the importance of storytelling and a compelling argument and works to provide a visual framework that emphasises and carries the essential points of said argument. It is visually captivating and engaging and uses many different presentation tools and spatial arrangements for presenters to use to their advantage.


Are you ready for the future?



Covid-19 has accelerated the use of e-Learning platforms due to the growing need to work remotely due to national restrictions. This has changed many fundamental business operations, including how meetings are conducted, employee education, and the sharing of information.


The fundamental flaw in presentation making is not the software but rather the dogmatic principles of presentation making. To create more effective presentations, the systemic generational practices and rhetorical devices of PowerPoint presentations need to undergo significant changes.


The efficacy of a presentation lies not in the presentation’s content but rather its significance in the overall story being told. Therefore, the more we lean into storytelling (visually and orally) and away from the fragmented bullet point rhetoric of PowerPoint presentations, the better our presentations will become.


PowerPoint is an enemy we like to keep close. We know that it’s probably not the most effective presentation tool, yet we are reluctant to let it go. Are you ready to make the platform work for you rather than against you? Or will you join the growing population of ZUI users in making effective and engaging presentations in the movement against the over-simplification of content and over-complication of design that PowerPoint has created?


Sources

How PowerPoint Makes You Stupid: The Faulty Causality, Sloppy Logic, Decontextualized Data, and Seductive Showmanship That Have Taken Over Our Thinking,Frommer, F., 2012.

4 views0 comments
bottom of page