Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 1;   January 2, 2002: Think Before You PowerPoint

Think Before You PowerPoint

by

Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?

Dylan glanced frantically at the clock in the corner of the screen. Thirteen minutes to go. He clicked "Print," vaulted out of his chair and raced to the printer (color of course). When he got there he found Barbara waiting for her job to finish. "How much longer?"

The Thinker PowerPointing"Oh, maybe five minutes…why?"

"Would you mind canceling so I can run my four slides for the board meeting in six minutes?" He actually had 10 minutes, but anything to strengthen his case.

"You owe me," she said, as she hit the orange Cancel button and left.

Dylan made it just in time. Later, Barbara had to re-queue her job, which cost her about five or ten minutes. Not much, but when you add up all the similar little wasted chunks of time, it's easy to see one reason why projects run late.

We all want to make a good impression, but is a good impression really worth bumping someone from a printer or waiting for one to free up? And do we really need beautiful PowerPoint, when a bulleted list on a sheet of paper will do?

I don't know of any cost studies of the frills we use in the everyday presentations that we give to each other. I do have a sense of how much time I've spent on such things personally, and I look back on that as misspent youth.

How do we get to a place where the project is three months late and still it makes sense to spend 20 minutes fiddling with a presentation color scheme?

To control the escalation
of arcane PowerPoint frivolity,
negotiate a Superfluous Artwork
Limitation Treaty (SALT)
Two sets of players contribute — the presenters and the audience. As the audience, we do respond to well-crafted presentation graphics. We tend to confuse form and content, and we telegraph our confusion to presenters. As presenters, we use any technique we can to make the audience more receptive. Both audiences and presenters find themselves in a spiraling escalation of presentation craftsmanship, which leads inevitably to excessive use of printer supplies and project delays.

To control the escalation, negotiate a Superfluous Artwork Limitation Treaty (SALT). Agree that all presentations will be in black-and-white and free of color, animation, video, and audio, unless the content demands it. You'll get these benefits:

  • Usage of expensive consumables drops.
  • Demand for color printers drops.
  • Productivity increases because less time is spent on graphics design.
  • Instead of designing presentations, people begin to think.
  • Instead of presenting at each other, people begin to discuss.
  • Quality of group decisions improves, because of clearer thinking and more effective dialog.

A SALT could have prevented Dylan's interrupting Barbara's print job. How could it have changed your morning today? What can it do for your organization? Go to top Top  Next issue: When Meetings Boil Over  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
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Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.

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