One night over dinner, Michael and I were talking about our love hate relationship with PowerPoint, and the practical reasons for using the tool. After some discussion about the ramifications (both positive and negative) of PowerPoint on an individual and social level, we both confessed we thought we had a little more than average credibility on the subject. I issued a challenge. He graciously accepted (see below the challenge) and confirmed his intent. Rules were drawn up. We did a little trash talking, and then the time came to pony up, in a classic east coast/west coast beef. Like all fair fights, we moved the competition to a unified neutral venue. Enjoy the show, and try not to - as Michael said - get caught in a hail of bullets.
Most of the people I know are geeks, and some large number of geeks are obsessive to one degree or another. (This can be verified by anyone who's ever mumbled "Asperger's..." under their breath while watching me arrange my Windows desktop.)
Perhaps the ultimate example of this sort of dorkiness is the fact that almost every one of my friends has, at one point or another, made at least one Excel spreadsheet to document some arcane aspect of their lives. The number of consecutive sunny days, the types and prices of the cups of coffee they drink, or just straightforward charts about their boss's mood. There's no end to the ways one can misuse desktop applications in one's personal life.
So I've been meaning for a few years to create a site for people to upload their spreadsheets and then explain the purpose behind them. The main concerns I had were (1) what to do when idiots uploaded files with viruses, and (2) whether to allow other types of files, to embrace those with PowerPoint fixations. Those are pretty easy to deal with by only allowing one person at a time to post and by trying to accept those of the PowerPoint persuasion, despite their obvious depravity
As a venture capitalist, I have to listen to hundreds of entrepreneurs pitch their companies. Most of these pitches are crap: sixty slides about a “patent pending,” “first mover advantage,” “all we have to do is get 1% of the people in China to buy our product” startup. These pitches are so lousy that I’m losing my hearing, there’s a constant ringing in my ear, and every once in while the world starts spinning.
I am trying to evangelize the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. It’s quite simple: a PowerPoint presentation should have ten slides, last no more than twenty minutes, and contain no font smaller than thirty points. While I’m in the venture capital business, this rule is applicable for any presentation to reach agreement: for example, raising capital, making a sale, forming a partnership, etc.
The word processor is a stupid and grossly inefficient tool for preparing text for communication with others. That is the claim I shall defend below. It will probably strike you as bizarre at first sight. If I am against word processors, what do I propose: that we write in longhand, or use a mechanical typewriter? No. While there are things to be said in favor of these modes of text preparation I take it for granted that most readers of this essay will do most of their writing using a computer, as I do. My claim is that there are much better ways of preparing text, using a computer, than the word processor.
The wording of my claim is intended to be provocative, but let me be clear: when I say word processors are stupid I am not saying that you, if you are a user of a word processor, are stupid. I am castigating a technology, but one that is assiduously promoted by the major software vendors, and that has become a de facto standard of sorts. Unless you happen to have been in the right place at the right time, you are likely unaware of the existence of alternatives. The alternatives are not promoted by the major vendors, for good reason: as we shall see, they are available for free.
Let's begin by working back from the end product. Text that is designed to communicate ideas and information to others is disseminated in two main ways:
As "hard copy", that is, in the form of traditional printed documents.
By digital means: electronic mail, web pages, documents designed to be viewable on screen.
There is some overlap here. For instance, a document that is intended for printing may be distributed in digital form, in the hope that the recipient has the means to print the file in question. But let us consider these two modes of dissemination in turn.
'Death By PowerPoint' No More: Apple's Keynote Leaves Its Microsoft Counterpart Trailing Behind
Over the years, the software has been blamed for boring people senseless. The phrase "Death by PowerPoint" is common corporate parlance. Some companies and conference organizers have prohibited PowerPoint, and the press perennially skewers it as a thought-free plague. One legal scholar, tongue-in-cheek, proposed a constitutional amendment banning its use.
Now Blackfriars must insist on our Second Amendment rights to bear bullets, if for no other reason that we teach executives how to use them properly. And as part of our courses, we often present our Hall of Shame slides, meaningless and confusing PowerPoint slides collected over many years to illustrate just how many ways executives can go wrong with PowerPoint slides. However, despite our defense of PowerPoint in the right hands, we have to agree with Mr. Sandberg that most PowerPoint presentations are dreadful to the point of ridicule. And over the last three or four years, we've come to a somewhat contrary conclusion:
Microsoft's (MSFT) PowerPoint program is part of the problem.
See, we're a Mac-based company, so we're not stuck with PowerPoint. And over the years, we've used a variety of presentation programs ranging from AppleWorks to OpenOffice. And in the last three years, we've been using Apple's (AAPL) Keynote software, which is bundled as part of its iWorks package. And quite honestly, it puts PowerPoint to shame.
Why do I say this? Because I did hundreds of presentations using PowerPoint as an analyst and always dreaded the experience of creating the slides. And Keynote removes that dread and makes us look better because it:
University of NSW research shows the human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time.
If you have ever wondered why your eyes start glazing over as you read those dot points on the screen, as the same words are being spoken, take heart in knowing there is a scientific explanation.
It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time.
The Australian researchers who made the findings may have pronounced the death of the PowerPoint presentation.
They have also challenged popular teaching methods, suggesting that teachers should focus more on giving students the answers, instead of asking them to solve problems on their own.
Pioneered at the University of NSW, the research shows the human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time.
It also questions the wisdom of centuries-old habits, such as reading along with Bible passages, at the same time they are being read aloud in church. More of the passages would be understood and retained, the researchers suggest, if heard or read separately.
The findings show there are limits on the brain's capacity to process and retain information in short-term memory.
John Sweller, from the university's faculty of education, developed the "cognitive load theory".
"The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster," Professor Sweller said. "It should be ditched."
Anyone who's been a victim of "death by Powerpoint" - that glazed and distant feeling that overwhelms you when some sales droid starts their presentation - will be reassured by Aussie researchers who've discovered biological reasons for the feeling.
Humans just don't like absorbing information verbally and visually at the same time - one or the other is fine but not both simultaneously.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia found the brain is limited in the amount of information it can absorb - and presenting the same information in visual and verbal form - like reading from a typical Powerpoint slide - overloads this part of memory and makes absorbing information more difficult.
Professor Sweller said: "The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.
"It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented."
The theory of "cognitive load theory" suggest the memory can deal with two or three tasks for a period of a few seconds - any more than that and information starts to get lost.
Cliff Atkinson schrijft over de beste stuctuur die je presentaties kunt geven:
Unlocking the secret code of a persuasive story
A persuasive story uses the structure of a story, but spins the story in a particular way that ensures it aims at achieving results we need in presentations: by using persuasion. You can apply this fundamental structure to any type of presentation. Using a visual medium such as PowerPoint gives you additional levels of communicative power, the same ones that Hollywood shows us every day.
For example, let's see how a persuasive story looks in the form of the first five slides in a PowerPoint presentation to a board of directors, where the presenter is seeking approval for a new product. Instead of using a category heading, the top of each slide features a simple statement that addresses each category of information that the board needs to know about, as described here.
Establish the setting.
The headline of Slide 1 reads: Our sector of business is undergoing major change. The subject of this headline establishes the common setting for the presentation and relates the "where" and "when" for everyone in the audience.
Designate the audience as the main character.
The headline of Slide 2 reads: Every board faces tough decisions about what to do next. The subject of this headline establishes the members of the board as the main characters in this story, establishing the "who" of the story.
Describe a conflict involving the audience.
The headline of Slide 3 reads: Six new products have eroded our market share. The subject of this headline describes a conflict the board faces that has created an imbalance. This explains "why" the audience is there.
Explain the audience's desired state.
The headline of Slide 4 reads: We can regain profitability by launching a new product. The board doesn't want to stay in a state of imbalance, so the subject of this headline describes the board's desired state, describing "what" the audience wants to see happen next.
Recommend a solution.
The headline of Slide 5 reads: Approve the plan to build Product X, and we'll reach our goals. This final headline recommends a solution, describing "how" the audience will get from its current state of imbalance to its desired state of balance.
Reading these five headlines in succession reveals an interesting and engaging story that will be sure to capture the board's attention. And when you add an illustration to each of these headlines, you open up the power of projected images, including full-screen photographs, clip art, or even simple animated words.
The rest of the story
The five slides in this example form the backbone of Act I of a persuasive story structure. Act II then spins off of the pivotal fifth slide, explaining the various reasons why the audience should accept the solution. Act III frames the resolution, setting the stage for the audience to decide whether to accept the recommended solution.
With the solid structure of your first five slides in place, your presentations will move well beyond the stale world of bullet points, and into the lively world of a persuasive story. By blending together the classic concepts of story and persuasion with your PowerPoint software, you are sure to engage your audience and make things much more interesting—and productive—for both you and your audience.
As soon as you decide to become a professional nerd, either via a university degree or simply because you sit up all night writing Python to scratch your particular technical itch, you think you absolve yourself of having to stand up in front of a group of people make a presentation.
And you might be right.
Then there's a chance you're going to build or think something brilliant, and no mailing list, weblog, or wiki is going to be able to contain this brilliance. Those who want to hear about your brilliance are going to insist that you stand in front of them and explain this bright thing that you did or thought.
Conflict. Yes, you want to explain your brightness, but, um, the last time you stood in front of people and told a story was Ms. Randall's 11th grade English class, and you stumbled through an incoherent ramble about Henry David Thoreau and some pond.
Unlike that pond, you are immensely qualified to talk about your topic, but you're totally unqualified to present in front of a group of people. It's not just that you haven't had the practice, but that lack of practice has given you the erroneous impression that there's a good chance you might throw up if you have to stand up and tell a story in front of 500 people.
Not Throwing Up is a Two-Phase Process
Phase 1: Practice endlessly
Phase 2: Throw-up Avoidance
Phase 2: Improvise.
The ability to improvise takes experience and you're going to have to live through and recover from a couple of horrific presentations in order to build up your improv repertoire. For these early disasters, I have three pieces of advice:
When you're presenting, talk like you're talking to one person who happens to have a thousand eyeballs. Don't get lost in the sea of faces, pick a person and tell them the story. Not for the entire hour, just a few seconds. Then move on.
Use silence as punctuation. My favorite trick in the book especially since I'm a fast talker. When you hear yourself gaining verbal momentum, stop. Count backwards from 5. Walk across the stage. Resume. These breaks are going to give both you and your audience a chance to mentally regroup.
They want you to succeed. This piece of advice is in every presentation guide out there -- because it's true. Your audience is expecting you to rock their socks. They're expecting an A+. That's where you're starting in their heads and walking on stage knowing this helps.
I don't want you to throw up.
I want you to fret about this presentation, and if you're not losing a little sleep, you don't care. You're not going to be motivated. You're going to end up perpetuating the idea that nerds can't tell a story. If you've been handed the responsibility of a presentation and aren't the least bit concerned, give it to someone who is going to sweat this thing and then be prepared for that person to end up as your boss.
How Cognitive Science Can Improve Your PowerPoint Presentations
Jumping off from ideas he raises in his recent book, Clear and to the Point, Kosslyn explained that the four rules of PowerPoint are: The Goldilocks Rule, The Rudolph Rule, The Rule of Four, and the Birds of a Feather Rule. Here's how they work.
The Goldilocks Rule refers to presenting the "just right" amount of data. Never include more information than your audience needs in a visual image. As an example, Kosslyn showed two graphs of real estate prices over time. One included ten different numbers, one for each year. The other included two numbers: a peak price, and the current price. For the purposes of a presentation about today's prices relative to peak price, those numbers were the only ones necessary.
The Rudolph Rule refers to simple ways you can make information stand out and guide your audience to important details -- the way Rudolph the reindeer's red nose stood out from the other reindeers' and led them. If you're presenting a piece of relevant data in a list, why not make the data of interest a different color from the list? Or circle it in red? "The human brain is a difference detector," Kosslyn noted. The eye is immediately drawn to any object that looks different in an image, whether that's due to color, size, or separation from a group. He showed us a pizza with one piece pulled out slightly, noting that our eyes would immediately go to the piece that was pulled out (which was true). Even small differences guide your audience to what's important.
The Rule of Four is a simple but powerful tool that grows out of the fact that the brain can generally hold only four pieces of visual information simultaneously. So don't ever present your audience with more than four things at once. This is a really important piece of information for people who tend to pack their PowerPoint slides with dense reams of data. Never give more than four pieces of information at once. It's not that people can't think beyond four ideas -- it's that when we take in the visual information on a slide we start to get overwhelmed when we reach four items.
The Birds of a Feather Rule is another good rule for how to organize information when you want to show things in groups. "We think of things in groups when they look similar or in proximity to each other," Kosslyn pointed out. Translation into PowerPoint? If you want to indicate to your audience that five things belong in a group, make them similar by giving them the same color or shape. Or group them very close together. This sounds basic, but it often means taking your data apart and reorganizing it. Kosslyn's co-panelist, Stanford psychologist Barbara Tversky, explained that one of the fundamental principles of data visualization is, ironically, misrepresentation in order to get at the truth.
Even these goofy names for each rule of PowerPoint follow a principle from cognitive science: it's always easier to remember an unfamiliar idea if it's named after something familiar.