We’ve all heard of—and probably experienced—death by PowerPoint. But who would have thought it plagues the military as well? One retired Marine colonel says those mind-numbing, fatigue-inducing presentations are commonly referred to as “hypnotizing chickens.” Sounds like something I’d rather avoid.
An article on nytimes.com, We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint, discusses how prevalent PowerPoint is in military briefings and meetings. Many military officials, however, are highly critical—not necessarily of the program itself but how it’s used.
As reported in the article, Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps said, “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” Another General said PowerPoint leads us to present bullet points for issues that “are not bullet-izable.” Still more criticism says that its presentation format squanders discussion and critical thinking. (Although this notorious slide, shown to Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, spurned plenty of discussion, like whether or not the intricate graphic resembles a bowl of spaghetti.)
While the NY Times article hones in on PowerPoint’s use in the military, the issue translates to just about any industry or sector—from Fortune 500 companies to higher education. Considering how ubiquitous the program is—and that it’s not likely to disappear—how can we change the way we use PowerPoint to become more effective?
Changing Your Approach to PowerPoint
I could list (in bullet points, no less) all the strategies you’ve already heard for refining PPT presentations, like using bullet points, avoiding jarring colors and distracting fonts and not cluttering a slide with too much text. But I won’t.
Rather, I’d like to prompt discussion on when to turn to PowerPoint. Many people go straight to the program and begin playing with whizzing animations and list formats before they really know what they need to say. A better approach is to formulate your presentation in its entirety—whether that means writing a script or a thorough outline—and then move over to PowerPoint when you know what big ideas you need to reiterate on screen.
Steve Jobs’ presentation style alludes to this type of process. As many bloggers have noted, Jobs tends to use slides with a single image or a short phrase; they’re not distracting (like the bowl of spaghetti), but supplement the ideas he’s talking about and help him communicate his story. They engage and entice the audience without diverting their attention—or putting them to sleep.
Part of the problem may be that we’ve come to expect PowerPoint presentations laden with lists and loads of text. But if we look at PowerPoint as a supplementary tool—not a stand-alone presentation—maybe we can avoid the narcolepsy-inducing presentations and actually facilitate critical thinking and discussion. In other words, no more “hypnotizing chickens.”
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