Although PowerPoint has been much maligned, it has become a ubiquitous reality not merely in sales and marketing but in all walks of business life. What we can't cure, we must endure! To that end, we should understand why some people hate it with a passion and, more importantly, how best to overcome its limitations through basic intelligence and common sense.
Even those of us for whom PowerPoint has become life's necessity can recount an awful experience of having to sit through an interminable slide show of 108 slides—one boring slide after another—only to wonder what came over us to cancel the dentist appointment instead.
Recently, PowerPoint quietly celebrated its 20th birthday. Lee Gomes wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the most influential and most groaned-about pieces of software: "There won't be a lot of birthday celebrations for PowerPoint; the program is one the world loves to mock almost as much as it loves to use. While PowerPoint has served as the metronome for countless crisp presentations, it has also allowed an endless expanse of dimwit ideas to be dressed up with graphical respectability."
The love-hate relationship regarding PowerPoint is nothing new. You typically find people in two distinct camps: Those who say a bad presentation is the reflection of the uninitiated craftsman and those who believe that the tool itself is to blame for the bad craftsmanship.
Someone squarely in the second camp, and perhaps one of the harshest critics, is Edward R. Tufte. In his scathing critique titled "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within," Tufte rails against PowerPoint by saying that "The evidence indicates that PowerPoint, compared to other common presentation tools, reduces the analytical quality of serious presentations of evidence." He lambastes PowerPoint for its "ready-made templates, which corrupt statistical reasoning, and often weaken verbal and spatial thinking."
Tufte is hardly alone. Peter Norvig asks us to "imagine a world with almost no pronouns or punctuation. A world where any complex thought must be broken into seven-word chunks, with colorful blobs between them." Then he reminds us that we don't have to imagine it. It is a present-day reality of a PowerPoint presentation. (To see a hilarious example of how Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address would have appeared in PowerPoint format, visit http://www.norvig.com/Gettysburg)
Robert Gaskins, the co-creator of PowerPoint, doesn't disagree. Apparently, PowerPoint presentation was never supposed to be the entire proposal—just a quick summary of something longer and better thought out.