Over time, I identified a single factor that makes the biggest difference between a great meeting and a poor one: PowerPoint. The best meetings don’t go near it.

PowerPoint presentations inevitably end up as monologues. They focus on answers, and everyone faces the screen. But meetings should be conversations. They should focus on questions, not answers, and people should face each other. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve found that even the hum of the projector discourages dialogue.

But hundreds of thousands of American university professors keep using it.

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4 Responses to “A business executive talks about PowerPoint.”

  1. Pete Copeland Says:

    The other day I saw people driving their cars in a non-optimal fashion. One guy was driving too fast! Another woman was putting on her makeup while driving! Somebody else just sat there even after the light had turned green! I see this sort of stuff all the time!

    It’s such a shame because, as I understand it, before the invention of the internal combustion engine, folks were 100% effective in the use of the horse and buggy. Drivers back then were smarter, more industrious, and better looking. And they never changed lanes without signaling. Ah, the good ole days.

    I guess the only way to get rid of bad driving is to get rid of cars. I’m sure that fanatical apologists for the automobile with argue that cars have benefits beyond the abuse they allow from poor operators but surely all of these benefits (if they really do exist) cannot equal the benefit of returning to the Time of No Trouble.

    And another thing: I went into a restaurant a while back and not all the dishes they served were to my liking. I can’t decide if this means we should get rid of restaurants or food.

  2. david foster Says:

    PeteC…PowerPoint aside for the moment, do you think it is possible for there to be such a thing as a technology that, by its very nature, tends to invite misuse?

  3. Pete Copeland Says:

    David,

    Hmmm. Well, I guess I’d say that technology doesn’t misuse, people misuse. This is of course because technology (such as a computer) is just as capable of bad acts as naturally-occurring objects such as trees or rocks. The fact that I can hit you over the head with a shovel or use it to dig an irrigation ditch to help feed people is not the fault or credit of the shovel.

    When people misuse a new technology it might make it easier to see their malfeasance but the technology didn’t create the malfeasance. Radio or TV didn’t cause politicians to lie; computers didn’t cause bankers to be greedy; PowerPoint didn’t cause professors to be lazy. All of these vices were common when paper was a new technology.

    The fact that it is so easy to find good and bad uses of shovels, or radios, or computers, or indeed, PowerPoint points out that these technologies are not inherently good or bad. The good or bad that gets done is a reflection of the user not the tool.

    On the other hand, I’m entirely in favor of gun-control laws, for example, but not because of the inherent problems of steel and black powder but because of the inherent problems of people. If you want to propose legislation that would make it illegal to use any text smaller than 28 pt. in a presentation projected on a screen, I’m right behind you. However, if you choose to put a list of 30 items on the screen and then read them to your audience, please don’t claim, “PowerPoint made me do it.”

    Let’s throwout *only* the bathwater.

    Thanks for your question.

    -Pete

  4. david foster Says:

    The *primary* problem with bad presentations/lectures/whatever is that the person doing it didn’t care enough to develop his skills, or maybe he had bad role models–both, in many cases, I’d suspect. It’s certainly possible to give excellent presentations using P/P, I would non-humbly assert that I’ve done it many times. But the nature of the beast, coupled with inherent human laziness and shortage of time, encourages the mindless bullet-point approach. This is aggravated by the fact that few people these days have secretaries or other assistants to help them with the details. (Several years ago, a software executive suggested that ‘The primary thing we’ve done with the computer revolution so far is to convert highly-paid executives into incompetent clerk-typists.’ To which I would add, in many cases, incompetent graphic artists.)

    Technologies are not totally neutral, they do encourage use in certain ways. The railroad and the airplane encouraged longer trips. Word processors encouraged writing very rough drafts and revising them multiple times. Assembly lines encouraged product uniformity to a greater degree than they technically *required*…Henry Ford didn’t really have to insist that all Model Ts be black. I’ve never seen it researched, but I bet AM radio, with its static and poor frequency response, tended to inhibit the popularity of subtle types of music.

    Some thoughts on the influence of technology on thought and perception at my post duz web mak us dumr?

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