Powerless point

    Life in an office is increasingly punctuated by endless meetings. Some are more necessary and stimulating than others.
    But chances are that, at some point in the meeting, technology will take over in the form of a computer generated presentation. As Chris Satullo observes in his weekly commentary, this doesn’t usually contribute to a free flow of ideas.

    Listen: [audio: satullo20100117.mp3]

    I was at a conference recently back when a young man got up and said something liberating.

    He explained he was going to take the radical step of simply speaking to the audience, rather than subjecting them to a projected display of dancing bullet points. “Power corrupts,” he said, “but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.”

    I felt like giving him a standing ovation.

    It’s been years since the Microsoft presentation program known as PowerPoint was first decried as a bane to humankind.

    That has not curbed PowerPoint’s viral spread one bit.

    By now, you know the drill. You show up for a lecture or a panel discussion. A speaker hands out a printout of his PowerPoint slides. Then he gives his speech, tediously reading his way through the selfsame slides, adding nothing to what you’re already holding on your lap.

    “I can read, you know,” you want to cry out in frustration.

    Now, I’ll admit that occasionally a speaker makes wise use of the program, with slides that make visual jokes to punctuate points, rather than deadening them.

    But more often than not, PowerPoint induces constipation of the mind. Its mandate is to boil the world down into bullet points; its offer is to hide weak thinking behind fancy graphics. The result: creativity gets limited, complexity ignored, narrative shortchanged.

    I give lots of speeches. The hosts usually ask me at some point, “Will you need any audio-visual equipment?” When I say no, there’s a pause. They’re thinking: “Wow, is this guy a daredevil working without a net? Or is he a technophobe who’s going to bomb?”

    In the interests of candor, I should admit that I’ve occasionally inflicted PowerPoints on an audience. One time, as I spoke to an audience of 500, some puzzled faces clued me into a problem. The tech crew had loaded the wrong slides, for a different speech.

    He who lives by the PowerPoint, dies by the PowerPoint.

    That should have cured me, but I’m sure, at some future point, I’ll commit PowerPoint again.

    But I’m even more sure that America would be a wiser, funnier, clearer-thinking place if all of us who stride to a lectern made this resolve: Use this sinister program only as a last resort, not a first choice.

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