The case for PowerPoint in the White House

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27 Responses to “The case for PowerPoint in the White House”

  1. dbarak says:

    PowerPoint in the right hands and for the right reasons can be an excellent tool for communication.

    And when I read the items under “Review of Key Objectives and Critical Success Factors,” the first thing I thought of was…

    Government by haiku.

  2. Caroline says:

    We absolutely need a Chief Information Designer. This may mean we’ll use a lot less PowerPoint.

    And the single rule for anyone using presentation software: Write your talk first, using complete sentences, before you ever open the software. Once you’ve got it written, then and only then should you start making slides. You’ll find that your slides have a lot fewer words on them, and a lot more pictures, graphs, movies, that actually illustrate your point.

    This takes longer and is harder. But your talk will be much better.

    I’ll never forget the time I gave a PowerPoint in class where the slides had almost no words on them — just graphs from relevant scientific papers, which I explained verbally. Half the class had skipped, knowing that the presentations would be put online. (It was a situation where about 5 people a day gave a presentation.) A day later, I got an inbox full of angry emails demanding that I also post my notes for the talk, because I hadn’t outlined my entire talk in bullet points to spoonfeed it to all the people who had skipped. I capitulated and put up my notes, but I was sorely inclined to just let them sweat.

  3. dragonfrog says:

    Sorry for the double-post

    I disagree with you, Nancy Duarte. Using images as a mnemonic device or to inspire your audience diminishes the memorable, inspiring character of your own words and presence. It feels like a cop-out. It might improve things for a poor speaker, by improving his talk toward mere mediocrity.

    Can you imagine Martin Luther King speaking with images of little black and white kids playing together in peace, projected behind his head? It would have made his speech worse, by distracting from his own passion and strength.

  4. improbable22 says:

    I can’t imagine many worse suggestions. Has anyone actually read Tufte?

    Giving out a written press release at the same time as a speech is just about perfect. Make sure both are coherent, even though the speech might contain much less detail than the release. The press will summarise for you.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Why Powerpoint? The government should be mandating open standards over proprietary! ISO OpenDoc presentation .odp format please!!!

  6. assumetehposition says:

    I’ve wondered for a while now why the State of the Union address isn’t more like a shareholders’ meeting. Multimedia might be a step in the right direction, as long as there are actual figures on the slides as opposed to trite advertising slogans.

  7. Olivia Mitchell says:

    I find it amazing that this discussion is still stuck in the “PowerPoint is evil” rut. Let’s get out of it. It doesn’t matter whether its PowerPoint, or Keynote or open source, having a visual explanation of complex concepts using information graphics helps people understand. Research into e-learning shows that adding graphical elements increases sutdents’s learning. So yes – I’d like to see Obama using visual slideware for technical speeches.

  8. Brainspore says:

    OK, I’m all for using visuals to help communicate a point a-la “An Inconvenient Truth.” But can we stop using “PowerPoint” as a synonym for “multimedia presentation?” I’m a graphic designer and I shudder every time I’m forced to use that horrible, unintuitive, soul-sucking program.

  9. Takuan says:

    I’d like to see an address done naked except for paint, blood and fire. People have forgotten the basics.

  10. Spike the Dingo says:

    I’m with Brainspore on this.
    I suppose openoffice impress would be the most politically correct…?

    …God, I can’t believe I’m bickering about presentation software.

  11. noen says:

    Why does Obama need the media at all? Everything can be published online and the sycophants can download it like everyone else.

  12. philoponia says:

    I happen to love PowerPoint, and think it would be an excellent idea.

  13. dragonfrog says:

    I’m with Tak on this – paint, blood, fire, and if possible the still-beating heart of Dick Cheney.*

    (*just kidding – I know as well as the next guy that Cheney’s heart doesn’t beat).

  14. Drummer says:

    “Wasn’t this the one of the lessons of An Inconvenient Truth–that great visual design could make a speech about a complex issue more powerful and more intelligible at the same time?”

    The lesson was that great visual design can sell even a lie. CO2 is not a pollutant. Not even close.

    More to the point: Tufte is right. PPT forces logic into corners it does not really want to go into. If you want to think precisely the way PPT engineers think, then PPT is for you. If you want to make communication clear, think for yourself. And learn how to think like your readers, audience, etc. Then give your audience the respect and dignity they deserve by thinking clearly and communicating simply.

  15. Zan says:

    I was just about to post a link to http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB&topic_id=1&topic=Ask+E%2eT%2e but I see that you’ve already linked to the author. Powerpoint can be a powerful way to disclose troubling information without actually calling attention to it.

  16. TimInBC says:

    Hmm. What a difference it would make if people were regularly exposed to GOOD Powerpoints.

    Obama and his team clearly understand what makes a speech work. If they also understand what makes a Powerpoint work, maybe there’s hope.

  17. Takuan says:

    yeah, but it oozes sticky black ichor that sticks to the cave walls nicely.

  18. DesignBenign says:

    There has been a lot of discussion in the design community about the need for comprehensive visual design in the coming administration.

    Entry in the Citizen’s Briefing Handbook: http://citizensbriefingbook.change.gov/ideas/viewIdea.apexp?id=0878000000057Ar&lsr=0#comments

    The U.S. National Design Policy Initiative: http://www.designpolicy.org/

    And my own thoughts on the subject: http://www.underconsideration.com/speakup/archives/005662.html

  19. TheChickenAndTheRice says:

    It seems like the media does this for him anyway. He speaks in lists a lot (“I have a 4 point plan for solving the economic slump. 1…”) and the media then translates those lists to guzzied-up PowerPoint presentations.

    It seems that drawing attention away from his diction would cause for a loss of impact without an appreciable gain.

  20. Master Gracey says:

    I’m concerned about equating the skill/ability to effectively read from a tele-prompter with giving a good presentation.

    Personally, I don’t want the President monkeying with PPT presentations, adjusting font size, bullet lists, animations, etc. He’s too busy, and the people around him are too busy for such nonsense. Sure, they could out-source (or in-source) the effort, but then they’d have to lock down their message that much earlier (or delay the speech/presentation) to accommodate the creation of a PPT deck…

    I don’t think this solves a real problem, it would just allow folks to ignore the words and read the slides – probably the opposite of what the incoming administration would want.

  21. J France says:

    Good PowerPoint is vastly diffferent from PowerPoint.

    Even better is a MultiMedia presentation – skip Keynote and go straight to iMovie & iDVD, if we’re going to suggest that stuff.

    I think Obama could most probably learn alot from Jobs’ presentations, too. If you can generate that much hype with incrementally updated computer hardware…. imagine the hysteria and positive press Obama could muster keynoting on a nation green energy framework, for instance.

    A new RDF for the White House… the one Bush was using started to clap out under the strain of all the BS.

  22. benposch says:

    No no no, you got it all wrong! How is Obama going to keep up that slick campaign look with the clunky and out-dated Microsoft Powerpoint? He needs to be using Apple Keynote. Change can start with a switch to a computer that works!

  23. NancyDuarte says:

    Tufte feels that PowerPoint is the wrong tool for complex statistical information and pretty much everyon would agree with that.

    But, creating images as a mnemonic device so the audience remembers your message and is inspired is a good thing. Balancing that with clear data is an even better thing.

  24. wemgadge says:

    He’d definitely be using Keynote.

  25. lava says:

    Isn’t this something that Ross Perot started…

  26. dragonfrog says:

    Olivia – through my entire undergrad degree (which took 5 years because I was being complicated), I had exactly two prof who used projection effectively. Every other prof who did so made things worse.

    One was an art history course – he was using an actual slide projector, with photographic slides (much better resolution than digital projectors). The only thing he projected were artworks we were discussing; there would be about 4-6 slides per lecture. Occasionally he used overhead projectors, so he could draw right on top of a piece of art.

    The other was a comp sci prof. He also did not use Powerpoint-equivalent clicky-next-slide style presentation software. He had
    - a computer projector, which he used only to demonstrate doing things with a computer
    - a chalkboard, which he used to draw diagrams and such that were to stay up for the whole hour
    - an overhead projector, which he used to write notes or demonstrations, writing exactly simultaneously as he talked (speaking in complete sentences, writing the short form out simultaneously

    Your point is valid – visual presentation of complex data can help enormously. But the fact remains that the most effective way of doing that is often not a canned presentation that dictates the sequence of your talk in advance, whether that’s done with Powerpoint, movie-making software, or whatever else. And Powerpoint is really only useful for making canned-sequence presentations.

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