May 07, 2006
Bad Powerpoint: Powerpoint as Teleprompter
Posted by Fred Tung

Bad powerpoint seems quite an egalitarian affliction—it seems not to discriminate between the high and mighty and the low and mean. Intermingled with the many good presentations here at ALEA—both on show and on substance—have been some debilitating uses of powerpoint, as bad as the worst powerpoint presentations I’ve seen in student seminars.Sleeping_man_1  

Now I’m surely not the first to blog about bad powerpoint. See here and (Gordon's comments) here, e.g.  However, I want to highlight my particular pet peeve, and that is the use of powerpoint as a teleprompter. It is becoming more and more common even among us professional presenters that we simply put our talk outline up on the screen. And it’s not just bullet points but complete-sentence descriptions of each point and each subpoint and each subsubpoint. So each slide is simply a full page of text—all thrown out to the audience in one shot.

This of course simplifies the presenter’s task of preparing her talk, since all she has to do is read from the screen. But I always thought that powerpoint was intended for the benefit of the audience, not for the speaker’s convenience. This use of powerpoint is simply an ugly distraction—it’s not possible for the audience to absorb all the text and listen to the speaker’s remarks at the same time. This effectively forces each audience member to choose her medium—do I read the text or listen to the oral remarks? And once that choice of medium is made, the audience member has to fight to ignore the distraction of the other medium’s simultaneous blare of information.

IMHO, no more than five or ten key words of text should be shown to the audience in any one shot. Trickling text out on one slide is fine, I think. (That’s a special effect that’s easily learned.) But the full-blown outline is just TOO MUCH.

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