That PowerPoint culture includes you

Australian researchers have discovered information is best processed either orally or in writing, but not both ways simultaneously. Thus, PowerPoint presentations can backfire when what’s on the screen is the same as what the speaker is saying, because audience attention is automatically divided. One British journalist compared trying to follow what someone is saying while watching the same words on a screen, to the act of riding a bicycle down the aisle of a moving train – you feel like you’re making extra progress, but you’re not really going anywhere. Professor John Sweller of the University of New South Wales, Australia concluded simply: “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched”. He did not find it necessary to use colour slides to make this point.

This is in line with the current PowerPoint culture. PowerPoint can leave an audience persuaded, but not necessarily better-informed…

Ultimately, the danger of PowerPoint is not the inefficient or imprecise transfer of information but that, more than ever, style is replacing substance. Hard information, once transmitted through speeches and reports that demanded interpersonal interaction, can now be drowned out by slick graphics and oversimplified images. The ill-informed novice, with a polished presentation can trump the presenter with valuable information who lacks technical sophistication.

PowerPoint (or rather slide presentations in general – e.g. Keynote, Open Office, etc) isn’t intrinsically bad, its how we use and abuse it. But on the other hand, isn’t the audience also complicit in this process to an extent? When did you last ask someone to present sans deck of slides? Even worse, did you ask for that report in PowerPoint format?


One thought on “That PowerPoint culture includes you

  1. I recall reading Swellers initial research at least 2-3 years agoyears ago. It’s taken the Brits *this long* to find it?Still, it’s good stuff and very valid. Should be distributed to everyone ever doing PowerPoint. Along with a crash course in Tufte.

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