Power to the Point! (Not the PowerPoint)

The Anti-PowerPoint Party is out to get your slideshows, and should they garner enough support, they plan to run in Switzerland’s October general election. I refer to an article I read about banning PowerPoint presentations in Switzerland.

It got me thinking about PowerPoint, and its ubiquitous presence in all forms of public address, from academic lectures to speeches at birthday parties. On the whole, I believe it can be a useful addition, as long as it is used for good, and not for presentation evil.

You know what I mean. The lazy-ass student who has copied a mass of text from the Internet and pasted it onto a single slide, too small to read from the back of the room, and who proceeds to intone the entire thing, which we all could have done just as well ourselves in silence. Often the information is generic, dull and comprises no analysis or work on the part of the student.

Then there are the distracting slideshows, containing dizzying flashes, spinning, twisting, fading and wiping texts and images flying all over the screen. One wonders if the creator wasn’t having the time of their life the night before, discovering the magic and fun that is transitions and animations. Or if their presentation is in fact rubbish, and they’re trying to razzle dazzle you into thinking otherwise.

What happened to cultivating good old skills of public address? Such as eye contact with your audience, and remembering what you are going to say, using only a few prompts from your bullet-pointed notes? We mustn’t fear the notion of simply talking to a room – essentially what a lecture is. With the right amount of charisma you won’t need anything other than yourself to hold the attention of your audience. Relying on slideshows dulls that magnetism and makes generic, PowerPoint-enslaved automatons of us all.

Whoever heard of a PowerPoint-accompanied inspiring speech? Did Alexander the Great need such aids when he rallied his tired troops on the verge of conquering India? Would Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech have been quite so stirring if the crowd were distracted by a big projection behind him detailing the major points of his argument? Would King George VI (played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech) have tried so hard to overcome his speech impediment if he had PowerPoint as a back-up? We’ll never know the answers to these questions and frankly I don’t want to because a slideshow just cannot compare to a genuinely inspired and engaging oration.

Obviously if you’re in an art lecture, you’re going to need the projections of artworks under discussion. But I reckon PowerPoints should contain pictures, names and dates, and little else. These are generally what I prefer to include if I have to give a presentation, and I present the bulk of my research in speech. Another problem I have with PowerPoint is it makes for very static speeches. Because of the need to always be by the computer’s side to click onto the next slide, you lose movement and dynamism, which can really add interest and stimulus to a presentation.

Still, I’ve often found having a PowerPoint gives you something to focus on if your lecturer is mind-numbingly dull; a visual back-up if you cannot stand to listen to their voice, allowing you to still pick up key points. Pictures or videos can often provide additional stimulation, as well as making your lecturer look well smart and up-to-the-minute.

Though I don’t think we need to go as far as abolishing PowerPoints, I do believe we need not rely on them. It has become basically compulsory for university lecturers to use them, but why? It may bolster a bad presentation but it can equally do the opposite to a good one. If the projector is not working (as often happens), lectures are delayed, relocated, or even cancelled. What a waste of time on something inessential to many lectures anyway.

So let’s all ditch our PowerPoints, vote for the Anti-Powerpoint Party and get stuck in to some Quintilian!

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One thought on “Power to the Point! (Not the PowerPoint)

  1. Pingback: An old-school style of teaching… | The Fondue Files

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