When Presentations Take on a Life of their Own

By Greta Stahl

Some of the world’s most powerful institutions, including the US military use PowerPoint to communicate ideas. Now, newly released documents have shown that the influence of PowerPoint extends to the United States National Security Agency.

Much of the controversy surrounding the NSA’s top-secret Prism program can be traced back to a PowerPoint deck given by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post and the Guardian. Although the newspapers haven’t released the full 41-slide deck, the 4 slides they did distribute have been enough to create a political and media firestorm.

prism slide

Snowden’s slides leave something to be desired in terms of clarity of content and visuals. The poor design of these slides has capped how much useful information the public has been able to glean from them, and likely contributed to the confusion taking place in media and policy discussions. Regardless of your political orientation, it’s clear that presentations carry the potential to inform and even persuade audiences, but only if their author does the hard work of simplifying complex concepts and wrapping them with context that makes their meaning clearer to the audience.

Although they were never intended for broad distribution, these slides are a good reminder that presentations spread fast and can take on a life of their own when the ideas within them are worthy of discussion and debate. In this digital age, it’s become difficult to limit the distribution of confidential content via e-mail or on forums like Slideshare, YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook. If someone does end up leaking your slides, you may end up wishing that you’d put more thought into ensuring they don’t make your organization look bad. Given the bad press the military has received for their PowerPoint decks in the past, these new slides just add insult to injury.

Topics Covered

Delivery, Presenting

Written by

Greta Stahl