I’ve been blogging for almost 10 years. Mostly, I blog about books and poetry. Occasionally I talk about art and work. For years, the blog post that held the record for the most number of visits was work-related: I Hate PowerPoint. That is, until another post overtook and surpassed it: A Sign of the Apocalypse (at the Office), which was also about PowerPoint.
It turned out that I wasn’t alone in my dislike of PowerPoint.
Actually, the problem wasn’t (and isn’t) PowerPoint. It’s how speakers and presenters misuse PowerPoint. “We treat it like the canvas for Homer’s Iliad,” I wrote in Poetry at Work, “when we should instead treat it like the backdrop for a haiku.”
I was having coffee with a friend at a speechwriting conference. We were commiserating about our executives’ desire for bigger, better, brighter presentations, which had come to be defined as PowerPoint.
“I don’t write speeches anymore,” she said. “I don’t even write presentations. I write PowerPoint slides. My speaker saw a presentation where a video was embedded in a PowerPoint slide. He wants to do that now. And he read how younger speakers were embedding livetweeting streams in PowerPoint slides, and he wants to that, too.”
My own executive speaker wasn’t nearly that far gone. Hers was a major addict. He already averaged 60 PowerPoint slides per presentation, slides so jampacked with words, graphs, color-coded charts, maps, and illustrations that it was clear he had a morbid fear of white space.
He also didn’t refer to these efforts as presentations. He didn’t ask where his speech draft or presentation draft was. Instead, it was “Where’s my deck?” Explicitly, he had learned the lingo of PowerPoint presenters. Implicitly, he was comparing his presentation to a game of cards.
PowerPoint is a tool, a tool that’s badly misused. All of us have sat through countless PowerPoint presentations. We know what happens each and every time. We focus on the slide. We don’t listen to the speaker, who’s usually reading the words from the slide. Afterward, we don’t remember any of the substance. All we remember is if the presentation had good slides or bad ones.
PowerPoint contains an inherent poetry, but it’s minimalist poetry. Experts says each slide should contain no more than six to eight words, or a single photographic or artistic image. To use PowerPoint effectively become a minimalist poet.
Six to eight words per slide, max. Not 200.
From Poetry at Work: “When drafting a presentation in the workplace, go minimalist. Tap into the poetry of PowerPoint, approaching it as a poet approaches a poem, showing restraint, carefully selecting only the words that convey the message simply and clearly. To the poet, each word matters. Each word is carefully selected. Each word evokes a picture, a mood, an emotion.”