Discontinuing The Dummy-Down

The Powerpoint Rangers

Ideas arrive, events occur.  We record them, synthesize, and communicate; we see, we think, we scribe.  Time passes and things temporal become clear, like trends, patterns, relationships.  Collectively we seek to make sense of our norms, the group’s standards, our ethic and code, the ways we get things done.  We mark symbolic and impermanent tracings in sand,  persist time-tested truisms on rock,  stamp our understandings on various papyri, and encode our intellectual properties in digital, binary forms.

Robust content, rich data, explanatory context, deep relationships and synergies among ideas, causal nexus and correlation, marshaled through blood, bone, and gray matter, and then . . .

Death by PowerPoint

  • A bullet list of points
  • Dummied down “thin” data
  • Big font.  Can you see me in the back?
  • No context
  • Format, and not content

Please fill in the blanks between the bullets above with your own reasoning, inferring what you think I mean to the best of your ability, because I am too lazy as a conveyor of information, to do the right thing by you, my audience.

Consider that the average slide in a deck amounts to less text than an average paragraph’s worth of content.  Does all of that white-space on a slide really help to isolate a central idea, to focus the audience on the takeaway?

Or is it just wasted opportunity to offer the greater amounts of information that the audience is yearning for, to have a meaningful engagement of minds, to incite meaningful conclusions, to enlighten and open the ear to calls for action?

“Apologies for the busy slide.”

You’ve heard this before, haven’t you?  But why apologize for bringing more useful information to the table?  And why use a slide at all if all it does is constrain the dialogue?

Try this:  shut down all the projectors in all of the conference rooms for a couple of weeks.  No more slide-ware.  Ban the bullet; penalize people for every bullet they use in lieu of a cogent and meaningful sentence.

Instead, when you gather, just talk about your business, supported by real handouts, tables of real data, and writings of real prose, no bullets.  Exchange well crafted and conceived papers, thought leadership from the functions, 2-pagers, back and front, single-spaced.  Complement with tables of meaningful data.  Get the right folks to pre-read, assimilate, and synthesize the information; assemble and talk.  Put things side by side; draw lines between concepts, and models.

Get the audience aggressively involved, and not soporifically complacent as a result of having to endure the thin information of your PowerlessPoints.

Stop managing the real-estate of your laptop monitor.  OK, so you got it all to fit on 1-slide, and you’ve played with the numbers so the spreadsheet foots.  So what?  Press down on the cover of the machine, toward the keyboard, allowing the hinge at the back to do its thing, until you hear the click; close the machine.

Life after Death

Look around at the real world.  Get out of the office, raise your head out of the cube, and walk around.  Manage the brick and the mortar.  Create relationships with people.  Evolve common understandings and models through eye contact and handshakes.  Whiteboard, brainstorm, noodle the details, get to the Aha!-moments, frequently and regularly.

Discontinue the dummy-down.  Consider that perhaps more information actually makes it easier to understand a topic. This is business – your business.  It brings with it an intrinsic degree of complexity that you will do well to embrace and immerse yourself in.  Don’t gloss over it in 36-point Helvetica.

This art is paid for and used under Non-Exclusive license agreement with Condé Nast.
Cartoonist: Trevor Hoey, The Cartoon Bank

© Michael C. Simonelli, onthegocio.com, 2013


Please see Edward Tufte’s  “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint”  http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_pp


In corporate and government bureaucracies, the standard method for making a presentation is to talk about a list of points organized onto slides projected up on the wall. For many years, overhead projectors lit up transparencies, and slide projectors showed high-resolution 35mm slides. Now “slideware” computer programs for presentations are nearly everywhere. Early in the 21st century, several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint were turning out trillions of slides each year.

Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?

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