11 March 2009

If Bill Gates doesn't read bullet points from PowerPoint slides ...

I’ve just been watching a talk by Bill Gates on How I'm trying to change the world now - the full version of which can be seen HERE.

Unfortunately, his plans for changing the world don't seem to extend to instructing Microsoft to withdraw, or at least radically overhaul, their market-leading presentation software.

Apart from his subject matter (defeating malaria and improving the quality of teaching), there were three other things about his presentation that struck me as interesting.

1. Bill Gates knows better than to read bullet points from PowerPoint slides
Although he showed a few slides (mainly pictures, maps and graphs), he did not use any that consisted of long lists of bullet points, and therefore didn’t have to keep turning round and reading from them – like the vast majority of PowerPoint users I’ve seen over the years.

If the founder of Microsoft has no use for the opening templates PowerPoint offers to its users (i.e. headings and lists), why doesn't he have any qualms about allowing his company to make millions of dollars from giving millions of people the false impression that listing bullet points is a sure-fire route to making an effective presentation?

2. Bill Gates knows that some technologies can help teachers but not that others can hinder them
Although he singles out video and DVD as technologies that can help to improve the quality of teaching, he seems completely unaware that other technologies, (e.g. PowerPoint, electronic whiteboards, etc.) might be reducing the quality of teaching.

Again, isn’t it time he woke up to the fact that PowerPoint may have led thousands of teachers and lecturers down a blind alley that's leaving millions of students a year in a state of boredom and/or confusion?

3. Bill Gates knows that objects can be used as effective visual aids
Apart from the applause for his announcement that he was going to give everyone in the audience a free copy of a book, the most positive response came when he took the lid off a jar and pretended to release mosquitoes into the auditorium (see below).

This may be about as far away from relying on PowerPoint slides as you can get, but is a simple and effective form of visual aid (for more on which, see HERE where you can watch examples of the Archbishop of York and Barack Obama doing something similar).

If only Microsoft would preach what its founder practises, there might be a chance of saving the world from the ever-spreading epidemic of death by PowerPoint.


Anonymous said...

Well, Max, it seems you blame PowerPoint for good or bad presentations, but PowerPoint is just tool. Its up to people how they use it.
If there are presentation with bullets it doesn't mean the software is bad, but the person who make the presentation made bad presentation.
When teachers make bad teaching by using poor presentations, its not software's fault, but teacher's.
PowerPoint is tool, like hammer or whatever else ...


Sal Pinto said...

Powerpoint is JUST a tool. But, like most dangerous tools, it should come with a health warning.

Something like "Be careful when you operate Powerpoint in live presentations, as it can result in terminal boredom, narcolepsy and message obfuscation".

Just how dangerous it can be is well illustrated by Edward Tufte's fascinating article "PowerPoint Does Rocket Science--and Better Techniques for Technical Reports", here http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1

For my money, this fits under Message Obfuscation.