Power point: Powerless and Pointless?
About a year ago, I resolved never to use power point again. The clinching argument came from a truly inspiring speaker, the environmentalist Paul Hawken. The trouble with power point, he told me, is that it is powerless and pointless.
But is this really a powerful point? Or just a cute play on words?
Paul Hawken backed up his ideas by saying that power point breaks the rapport and connection between a speaker and his audience because the audience’s experience is of constant discontinuity. This discontinuity makes any given narrative rather brittle. His speaking style, by contrast, has seamless range and amplitude which his listeners gladly follow. If you haven’t heard him speak before, I recommend the following little-watched video where he talks with great authority about the challenges of climate change.
Power point is definitely over-used, and very often used badly, but I wonder if people have become a little casual in their critiques of it. The advice is to use very few words, focus on images and don’t talk to the slides directly. However, once you start preparing a talk this is really hard to do, and seems to presuppose that both you and your audience is familiar with the material you are talking about.
Despite my prior resolution, I have spent most of the last couple of days preparing a power point presentation on behavioural science to an audience of about sixty bankers. I was asked for a general overview rather than specifics on financial behaviour, and I felt obliged to use power point to help structure my thoughts. I also felt the slides might help the audience, most of whom are new to the subject.
Still, the slides look a little busy, and reflect the reality of the process – a common one I believe – of the slides being generated not so much to communicate to others what one understands, but to make sense of it for oneself.
I now believe power point has its place in information dissemination, which is the main purpose of my talk tomorrow. However, if you want to connect with your audience, and leave them with strong feelings rather than new concepts, you are probably better just speaking directly, personally, and without visual crutches.