Recently Ars Technica posted about a study commissioned by the International Journal of Innovation and Learning about the futility of PowerPoint presentations. In summary, it explains how excessive animation and poorly structured presentations put audiences to sleep.
This follows the growing backlash I’ve seen recently against presentation software in general. I find this curious because I was using presentation software before it became popular. I remember the days of walking into a presentation with a projector and everyone looking at me inquisitively wondering exactly what the heck all that gear was for. (I also remember the bad old days before presentation software where I’d spend lots of money on big unwieldy blow ups.)
In the ensuing years, PowerPoint became a staple of business, sales, education, and just about every other scenario where one person needs to communicate information to another. I appreciate that a lot people are sick and tired of “death by PowerPoint.” I disagree that presentation software as a tool is a bad thing. To refine matters, I believe people are sick of bad presentations, not presentations as a whole.
The problem is, that most presentations are bad. While everyone is busy adding animations, transitions, and jingles (yes, jingles) to their presentations, nobody is bothering to figure out how to do one correctly. Using Apple’s Keynote is a good start. It looks so different from the usual PowerPoint templates that it gives you an immediate head start. That is only the beginning though. Keynote is just as easily abused as PowerPoint.
Software developers are not making it any easier with the arms race of tricky animations and visual effects. While these are a lot of fun (when used sparingly), for a lot of misguided presenters, they become a crutch upon which to give a cheesy, sleep inducing presentation. Don’t even get me started on the subject of bullet points and full screen paragraphs.
When done right, a Keynote presentation can complement an oral presentation beautifully. Maybe the problem is people think the presentation software can do the work for them. It doesn’t replace the presenter’s job of conveying information, it only enhances it. The answer is not to abandon presentation software. The answer is to make better presentations.