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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Comments (8)

1. Posted by The Unknown Professor on May 7, 2006 @ 7:41 | Permalink

Conferences for Finance profs can be even worse. I just came back from one where an author of a theory paper put up slide after slide of derivations in "teleprompter" mode. At least your presentatations have words in them!

For a lot of great info on making more effective presentations, I recommend Presentation Zen to all my colleagues (it's at http://presentationzen.blogs.com). It's greatly improved my presentations, and made it a lot mor fun for me also.



2. Posted by Robert Schwartz on May 7, 2006 @ 8:47 | Permalink

From the picture above, it seems to me that the audience got a chance to nap. I like naps.


3. Posted by MR on May 7, 2006 @ 9:11 | Permalink

We have a general rule: no bullet may be more than one line, and no slide may have more than 5 bullets. We violate the second sometimes, but almost never the first.


4. Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on May 7, 2006 @ 11:25 | Permalink

The antidote to continued Power Point use is sitting through any corporate presentation. There are three deadly sins: (a) the slide stuffed with so much data if all of the ALEA attendees worked for a week they might decipher it; (b) the aforementioned written-out sentences which are read verbatim, usually by the vice president of manufacturing; and (c) the first two sins multiplied by 120 which is the number of slides per hour in most of these presentations.

Advice to Wall Street job seekers: sound sophisticated beyond your years. Refer to the book of Power Point slides as "the deck" as in "does everybody have a copy of the deck in front of them?" If this is used in conjunction with the phrase "at the end of the day..." you automatically make director at a major investment banking firm.

Death by Power Point: walking into most annual budget or strategy sessions and encountering a three ring binder that is at least two inches thick of slides. You just pray to all that is holy that 7/8 of it is "Appendix."

Serious point: lawyers can add value in the corporate world by teaching communication and persuasion skills. What is the POINT of all of this data?


5. Posted by Mike Guttentag on May 8, 2006 @ 16:24 | Permalink

I think part of the problem has to do with norms. Many economists take it as a badge of honor that their presentations do not utilize PowerPoint effectively. If Lucian Bebchuck, for example, stopped using low-tech overhead projections, and started using well crafted PowerPoint presentations, which he could easily do, the overall quality of presentations would go up dramatically.


6. Posted by fish Fisher on May 10, 2006 @ 4:33 | Permalink

We have a general rule: no bullet may be more than one line, and no slide may have more than 7 bullets. We violate the second sometimes, but almost never the first.


7. Posted by Fred Tung on May 10, 2006 @ 8:12 | Permalink

Ellen Aprill points me to nice little primer on Five Ways to Reduce Powerpoint Overload: http://www.sociablemedia.com/PDF/atkinson_mayer_powerpoint_4_23_04.pdf.

It's put out by Cliff Atkinson and Richard E. Mayer at Sociable Media in LA (www.socialmedia.com).


8. Posted by Barnabas Jons on May 16, 2006 @ 12:33 | Permalink

Excellent presentation must have a wide variety of excellent content. But too often we try to shoehorn our media into PowerPoint, and as a result our cool interactive media, movies, web pages, and more look just like another boring old PowerPoint slide. In this regard, have you heard of Freepath??? I was able to use Freepath in a conference meeting - it shows Flash, multiple PowerPoint files, pdf, images, websites, everything! I even dropped music from iTunes over my PowerPoint - and everyone heard it. Do a Google search for it, and you can pull it up. It was great how well it went over - not a sleeper among my whole audience.
I first saw the product from this indezine review:
http://www.indezine.com/products/powerpoint/addin/freepath.html
Cheers!
Barnabas

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