20 August 2009

PowerPoint and the demise of Chalk & Talk: (3) Glimmers of hope


Welcome to anyone who's arrived here, directly or indirectly, via the link on yesterday's BBC website - in which case you must have an interest in speaking and presentation. If so, that's what this blog is mostly about, and you can see a list of (and link to) everything that's been posted here since Gordon Brown's party conference speech last year by clicking HERE.

As this is the third in a series of three posts marking 25 years of PowerPoint, you might like to look first at the previous ones on 'The beginning of the end' and 'The lost art'. And, if you haven't already seen it, you might also like see the short piece on yesterday's
BBC website, where there's also an interesting, if worrying, slide show about PPt.


As it’s probably too late for a cultural counter-revolution that would take us back to the good old days when chalk and talk ruled supreme, the best we can hope for is that salvation may be at hand in three glimmers of hope built into presentational software like PowerPoint.

1. Dynamic and animated functions
The first is that the dynamic and animated functions make it fairly easy to simulate some of the benefits of chalk and talk by enabling you to put things up as you talk about them – whether by building points up step-by-step, or by creating diagrams that appear to draw themselves on the screen.

2. Pictorial and graphical functions
Another glimmer of hope is that PowerPoint has tremendous pictorial and graphical capabilities that make it easy for speakers to make the most of the fact that audiences find genuinely visual slides, such as pictures, simple graphs, etc., much more helpful than ones made up of nothing but words and numbers.

3. Blank slides
Finally, you can bring considerable relief to your audiences by switching everything off for a while – either by pressing the relevant button on the keyboard or by inserting slides consisting of nothing but a black background, both of which make it look as though there’s nothing on the screen at all.

This is, in effect, the electronic equivalent of turning over to a blank page on a flip chart or rubbing chalk off a blackboard, and forces listeners to focus on nothing else but you and what you are saying – at least until the appearance of the next slide.

BUT:
Unfortunately, only a tiny minority presenters are making any use of any of these options. The vast majority of slides I see still consist of seemingly endless lists of bullet points, and the full potential of PowerPoint is still a long way from being realised.


The 1960s argument about blackboards versus whiteboards may be a thing of the past, but it is surely time for an urgent debate about the relative merits of using slides, chalk and talk and other types of visual aid.

Otherwise, the danger is that the real cost of the new orthodoxy will not be the millions spent on computers, software and projectors, nor the enormous waste of time and money resulting from people attending presentations from which they get little or no benefit – which, for the UK, I’ve estimated at more than £7.8 billion a year.

The real price and the real tragedy will be the incalculable long-term damage that will come from continuing to believe that PowerPoint is a foolproof panacea for presenters, when it's no more than a tool. And, like any tool, its effectiveness depends on its users understanding its limitations, as well as its strengths.

(Although this is more or less where I'd originally planned to end this series, the interest stimulated by the BBC website means that there could well be a few more related posts in the not too distant future).


PREVIOUS POSTS ON POWERPOINT INCLUDE:
PowerPoint program on BBC Radio 4
BBC Television News slideshow quiz
How NOT to use PowerPoint
If Bill Gates doesn’t read bullet points from PowerPoint slides
An imaginative innovation in a PowerPoint presentation
PowerPoint presentation continues to dominate BBC News – courtesy Robert Peston (again)
Slidomania contaminates another BBC channel
There’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint – until there’s an audience
BBC Television News: produced by of for morons?
PowerPoint comes to church

1 comment:

Fergus said...

Fascinating stuff from the past Max. When I train a team of executives for a day I use powerpoint as one of my tools. I have about 25 very visual slides - half of which are blank spacers. There are very few words. I ask questions all the time so that the clients take a path of discovery, rather than making notes. There are sounds to listen to and talk about, pictures to interpet. Maybe It is my theatrical bckground that helps!