Why?

Because PowerPoint pisses people off.

I mean, PowerPoint rules, of course; so you shouldn’t be surprised, for instance, to be commanded to use PowerPoint when you’re invited to give a conference presentation.

Matt Blaze, a security systems expert at U Penn, was surprised, and pissed off. He explains on his blog why he hates PowerPoint:

“Presentation software” like PowerPoint (and KeyNote and others of that ilk) has blurred the line between mere visual aids and the presentations themselves. I’ve grown to loathe PowerPoint, not because of particular details that don’t suit me (though it would be nice if it handled equations more cleanly), but because it gets things precisely backwards. When I give a talk, I want to be in control. But the software has other ideas.

PowerPoint isn’t content to sit in the background and project the occasional chart, graph or bullet list. It wants to organize the talk, to manage the presentation. There’s always going to be a slide up, whether you need it there or not. Want to skip over some material? OK, but only by letting the audience watch as you fast-forward awkwardly through the pre-set order. Change the order around to answer a question? Tough — should have thought of that before you started. You are not the one in charge here, and don’t you forget it.

Here are the PowerPoint slides Blaze prepared for an upcoming conference whose organizers made PowerPoint presentations mandatory for all participants.

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UD thanks Ian.

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12 Responses to “University Diaries has long had a category called PowerPoint Pissoff.”

  1. Robert Says:

    Bravo! Much applause and a standing ovation.

    I just had to decline, with deep regret, an invitation to contribute to the memorial volume for one of the giants in my own field in the humanities, a man of whom I was fond and for whom I have much respect.

    The organizers of the volume had very precise computer specifications, including templates (whatever they are!), for how the article was to be prepared and submitted electronically. It would have taken me much longer to learn how to deal with all this technology than it would to write the article.

    I’m retired now, and I have neither the time nor the incentive to deal with this sort of stuff. I would very much have liked to honor my deceased elder colleague, but . . .

    If I were still active, and were put in the position that the RSA 2011 organizers put Matt Blaze in — who is a giant in his own field –, I would have been sorely tempted to make my second slide a whole lot ruder than he did.

  2. Clarissa Says:

    “Want to skip over some material? OK, but only by letting the audience watch as you fast-forward awkwardly through the pre-set order.”

    -Seriously? 🙂 It seems like the author is blaming the software for his own lack of knowledge about how the software works.

    I think the idea of making PP presentations mandatory is completely misguided. However, it makes no sense to blame one’s own incapacity to master how PowerPoint works on some imaginary deficiencies of the system.

  3. superdestroyer Says:

    The same problem existed when presenters using 35 mm slides but usually the graphs were poorerand some of the slides would be upside down.

    There is a way to make powerpoint non-linear but it takes more effort.

    My guess is the presenter wants to show up with a three-ring binder filled with overheads that have been made over the years and just wing it during the presentation. 99 out of 100 presenters who believed that they could give a presentation this way could not. The audience would leave while they flipped through their binders to find the correct overhead.

  4. Pete Copeland Says:

    Pluleeese!

    Here’s a hint. If you don’t want the audience looking at the screen during part of your presentation, insert a black slide.

    PP handles equations just fine (if you use Microsoft Equation, which comes with Office).

    And I think if you take off the rose-colored glasses, you will recall that people asked questions out of context or out of order just as often the good old days as they do now, during the Terrible Reign of Powerpoint. Just try to skip back to slide #1 when the slides are actual physical 35 mm slides in a Kodak carousel. I think you will find it is rather more cumbersome the old way.

    Margaret, I take it you don’t use PP much (at all?) and I understand why not. You don’t use it and you’ve found reports of others who don’t use it well. You tend, I think like this guy, to blame the technology and not the person using it. This guy hasn’t figured out how to use a simple tool. He’s not alone in this but his notion that the tool is somehow to blame for the way it robs him of his free will is just nonsense. It also stands in contrast to the hundreds of effective presentations I’ve seen using PP or Keynote or some such. I’d love for you to be my companion for a day at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America or the American Geophysical Union. There aren’t enough hours in the day to see all the good PP presentations. Sure, there are many bad presentations too, but this is because there are some folks who aren’t good at organizing or speaking or perhaps because they haven’t figured out some of the little tricks found in PP.

    A poor workman blames his tools.

  5. calugg Says:

    I’m of two minds on Powerpoint.

    It can be a VERY useful tool. Having trouble writing a paper? Try dumping what you’ve done into Powerpoint. Sure enough, there are gaps in logic…which don’t look too troublesome in the paper, now become gaping holes in Powerpoint.

    But then, there are the posers who adore Powerpoint for it’s power to conjure “pretty trash.” The presentation flashes, dances and glitters, but the content? That is total crap.

    So color me ambivalent. It is a necessary evil in my area, so I’ve made an uneasy peace with it.

  6. Matt Blaze Says:

    I’m the author of the posting that was linked to here. Someone just sent me email pointing me here; I’m grateful for the comments, and surprised at the degree of interest (and rancor) that my post seems to have generated.

    My original blog post was about my frustration not so much with PowerPoint (and other presentation software) per se, but about the default assumption that it will be used in a way that makes the “slide deck” a representation of the highlights of a talk’s content. Some presenters, maybe most, might use presentation software that way (and I’ve seen some masterful examples), but some of us don’t don’t. That’s why I wince when I’m reflexively asked for a “copy of my presenation”, and I think I’ve seen at least a few others react in similar ways to the question. Fortunately, I also write papers and stuff, which are intended to stand better by themselves.

    For the record, yes, I know about (and use when I can) PowerPoint’s “presenter” mode, which improves control over the audience display. Unfortunately, presenter mode, while an improvement, is at best unreliable, since it assumes a particular configuration on the projecting computer. It often isn’t possible to project from a personal laptop (especially at conferences run on tight schedules), leaving us at the mercy of whatever is at the podium. And that often means PowerPoint in single-screen mode.

    In any case, while there is surely room for me to improve my mastery of PowerPoint’s features, this wouldn’t solve the basic problem, which is that — for me — my slides aren’t the content. They won’t help you understand things much more than the other stuff I bring on stage, like, say, my shoes (which you can’t have, either). But you’re welcome to my papers.

  7. Digger Says:

    I have an ambivalent relationship to PowerPoint. I know I could use it more effectively, and keep trying. I do totally applaud Matt Blaze’s slides!

    Re: sharing copies of my presentation: I agree with Matt. I’m happy to share written text from a presentation, but not my PowerPoints. There’s not enough context on my PP slides to make sense and generally don’t want graphics pinched. There are also cases where I have permission to use images for a conference presentation but not otherwise for distribution.

  8. Brian Ogilvie Says:

    I’m glad that Matt Blaze showed up, because I was going to say what he said, only he said it more eloquently. Presentation software is a useful tool, but it has to be used very carefully. In particular, slides should enhance or complement, not duplicate, what the speaker has to say. The idea that the slide deck should be distributed on its own is just as ludicrous as distributing the figures from a scientific paper, or an art history article, as if they could stand on their own.

  9. DM Says:

    @Robert: It is nowadays a common occurence that commercial publishers impose onto academics the formatting / page design work that they used to perform themselves (and what remains of this work is offshored to India or other places with cheap literate English speakers). The better behaved provide you with some templates that you can load into your word processor.

    @Pete Copeland: Most mathematicians, and I think most theoretical physicists or computer scientists, tend to use LaTeX for equations – and often nowadays presentations in LaTeX / Beamer.

    @Brian Ogilvie: Indeed, my slides tend to be fairly insufficient to convey the content of my talks, but I see a rationale in asking for a copy. Often, a speaker will mention on the slides a rather technical result (e.g. an equation), or a citation, and then the assistance, long after the talk, may scratch their head trying to remember this particular detail. Having the slides available solves this issue.

    I myself hate realizing I’ve heard something interesting but not being able to remember the exact content.

  10. Robert Says:

    @DM:

    Of course you’re right about the state of publishing now. But these things do shut out elderly scholars like me from the world of scholarly publishing a little earlier than might otherwise have been the case.

    I, and others of my generation, spent our childhoods in a world where hardly anyone had a television, where homes had a party-line telephone with live operators to connect you to the number you were calling, and where a family had at best one automobile (which had running boards). Now, in 2010, by choice we still don’t have a television, we make little use of our telephone, and we make do with one car (which lacks running boards!).

    Sometime in one’s late seventh or one’s eighth decade of life, one disengages from this culture’s constant whoring after novelties. One feels much less stressed, cleaner, and more content for having done so. By the time I have reached my ninth or tenth decade, I may also have thrown out my computer . . .

    — Robert the curmudgeon (who is inclined to laugh at his own grumpy intransigence)

  11. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Robert: constant whoring after novelties: Too right.

  12. Michael Says:

    Pete, there’s no need to insert a black slide. Just hit the B key on your keyboard.

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