“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.
The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.
“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”
Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making. Not least, it ties up junior officers — referred to as PowerPoint Rangers — in the daily preparation of slides, be it for a Joint Staff meeting in Washington or for a platoon leader’s pre-mission combat briefing in a remote pocket of Afghanistan.
Extract from NY Times. Read the very good full story at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/world/27powerpoint.html Helene Cooper contributed reporting.
My take and 5 useful tips:
Having experienced a slide crash in mid-flight last week ( as reported in my previous blogpost), and luckily able to successfully complete my talk without any audio-visual aids, I have 5 observations to make:
1. NEVER rely on your slides as your notes. If you can’t tell your story without slides, you have to wonder why you are up there in the first place. Bullet point slides went out of fashion in the 90s. Take the time also to explore alternative tools for augmented storytelling. http://www.prezi.com takes a vastly different approach to most presentation software and could be much more useful in clustering themes or demonstrating connections.
2. Instead of text, can you use a picture to “convey a 1000 words” and create a mental hook or metaphor of the concept/ point you are communicating? If you choose images that are emotionally evocative, these can be a useful “aide de memoire”. This can take HOURS to find, and tie up lots of resources- so consider the ROI on people’s investment of time vis-a-vis the magnitude of the impact you need to achieve with your message. In my experience, its very difficult to outsource this process and get a good result unless the speech writer is closely involved in the selection of the imagery, because we all see the world through different eyes.
3. If you want to provoke reflection, thinking or discourse among your audience, could you talk the message and use a slide only to interject and frame the questions you want the audience to ponder at various stages of the talk, or to signify a transition?
4. Can you introduce the “back channel” at various stages of the talk, or even participate in it in mid-flight? This depends on the nature of the audience, talk and degree of tech savviness, but its a real way of bringing the thought stream of the audience into the dialogue or to make the zeitgeist visible. (Not advisable for insecure speakers, newbies to Twitter or those unable to think on their feet.)
How can you execute this?
Via my clever friend @kcarruthers, I was alerted of a tool to integrate live tweeting in real time with a Powerpoint presentation using this. I havent used it yet, but will report on it as soon as I do- count on it for AMP’s next Social Media Cafe ( my safe experimentation space!) Via @stevenringo, I was alerted via Twitter to this Applescript that will allow you to insert code into your Apple Keynote slides that will “tweet” into the back channel while you are talking (how cool is THAT? ). And via @ethos3 presentation gurus, the cloud-based presentation software from http://www.sliderocket.com allows for a range of audience interaction facilities, including live polling and engaging in the conversation- view the demo here. Some good tips on how to master all of this available here and here.
By the way- there is a very insightful post on the blog “Learnlets” about the etiquette and value of the back channel – a contrarian view and I recommend this read! Another good discussion in similar vein from @engin_eer over at http://engineerswithoutfears.blogspot.com/2010/03/live-and-direct.html. (Hat tip: @katiechatfield)
5. Can you deliver the talk without slides and focus on audience intimacy, but make your content available on Slideshare for those who want to refer to the notes? Could this offer the best of both worlds? Sharing materials via http://www.slideshare.com generates influence and reputation value for the speaker/ thought leader and knowledge value for the researcher- so this is a win-win. (Although I find slides full of pretty pictures but without notes to explain them/ link the argument are not terribly useful.)
What other comments do you think we should add to this post? Was this useful?