Should You Ban PowerPoint?

It’s easy to malign presentation software. At one point or another, we’ve all been made to sit through the uniquely horrible experience of listening to somebody read their slides to the audience. In fact, recent article reported that this practice had gotten so bad among the group of physicists who work on the Large Hadron Collider that they banned PowerPoint. Now, the scientists give their presentations using only a whiteboard and a marker.

The article goes on to quote sources who blame PowerPoint for everything from the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster to the mistaken bombing of a Chinese embassy in 1999.

It’s become fashionable to blame presentation software for every boring meeting we’ve ever been to.

But like the golfer who slices the ball and blames it on his club, is it really fair to blame our mistakes on our tools? Or is presentation simply the scapegoat for our own shortcomings? Does PowerPoint hurt people? Or do people hurt people?

A recent article in the Financial Times has been one of the first major news outlets to argue this point, and I couldn’t agree with them more. It’s not the tool that makes us bad presenters. It’s how we use the tool.

Those of us around to witness the introduction of presentation software will remember how much easier it made our lives. Instead of handcrafting physical slides, we could just drag and drop images and put text directly on our slides. More than two decades later, we’ve come to take this innovation for granted. So much so that we think every step of the presentation-creation process should be that easy. Unfortunately, fancy video cameras won’t automatically give you a great movie or television show. New sneakers won’t make run faster or jump higher (Sorry, kids). And presentation software won’t automatically make you a great presenter. Like anything worth doing, that takes work.

Presentation software was never meant to transform you into an awesome presenter. It was meant to support you visually. Creating the great presentation is up to you.