This week, Powerpoint reached a quarter of a century old. I bet that the celebrations for it went down like for my recent birthday – quiet, nobody told, and with all the phones switched off, as they try to forget all about it, lest anyone realise they’ve been flogging the same product for about 20 of those years.
I’m an Apple fan. I’ll get that out of the way right now.
I own an iPhone, and I love using a Mac. They seem somehow simpler, less trouble, and yes – they’re incredibly stylish.
I don’t hate all Windows-based PCs, but being generic combinations of components can cause problems. (Although I’m biased as I worked in IT support almost exclusively for Windows machines, until last year)
Initially Powerpoint was a Mac-only product. If this had remained the case, it would have been axed by now, or substantially rewritten/redesigned.
The software is old, boring, and it’s also misused.
People feel the need to put in random animated effects (they’re all terrible), that haven’t been used in the mainstream media since probably the early 80s.
Anything that gives people cause to use Microsoft Office’s dreadfully-weakly-drawn clip-art is a bad thing, and swooshing sound effects are a mistake in any office situation.
Surely it’s not all bad?
I’ve sat through one enjoyable Powerpoint presentation in my entire life.
It was the first day of a training course, and it was enjoyable because they had used a copyrighted piece of music illegally. It’s the first and only presentation I’ve seen that has used a Fatboy Slim track in the background.
That also gives you some idea how long the presentation was – it was all finished in under 5minutes to give a basic overview of the corporation, before moving onto something else.
The rest of the course only used Powerpoint to show photographs of screenshots. Everything that wasn’t visual, wasn’t included.
The last Powerpoint presentation I sat through, had a lot going wrong for it. Aside from the earlier mentioned bad clipart (is it some kind of legal requirement?), here’s the three main reasons it failed in my opinion:
1. The person doing the presentation wasn’t the person who created it.
For that reason, there were sections where she actually said “I’m supposed to do X now, but I think it’s silly so I’m not going to bother”.
That seems bad for a presentation, but it was made worse by the explaining of everything that we would have done, had she not decided we wouldn’t.
As it happened, I agreed with her – it was a stupid idea.
But surely the correct thing to do there is either do the activity, or don’t do it and hide/delete the slide.
2. It was ridiculously generic.
I was being shown the presentation in one office of a multi-site business.
At one point, there was a slide that explained about the Y system, which featured in some sites.
The speaker announced that this wasn’t relevant at the site we were in, but then continued to explain what it was anyway.
On the one hand, you could say they were being helpful – but on the other hand, it’s completely pointless for me to know this information. It will be of no future use to me whatsoever.
3. It wasn’t really needed.
There were maybe two things in the entire presentation that had associating photographs. During some of the health and safety section, there were photographs of what can go wrong. Not gory, but interesting.
Aside from that, every other slide was used to show bullet points that (mostly) linked to what the speaker was saying.
Some of them weren’t obvious as to what they were though, so if you only remember what you see visually, you’ll still be none the wiser.
I should add that it wasn’t entirely the speaker’s fault. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that I hadn’t slept well, and so had a lot to drink to keep me awake.
This meant when she said “there’s only 10 slides left”, I was mentally calculating whether I could last until the end of the presentation (based on how long it had been since the last slide-count update), or whether I’d have to excuse myself to go to the toilet for the second time so far.
What other option is there?
10 years ago, when I was in college, a module required I do a presentation. Me and the rest of the students worked together, and collectively presented it to department heads and other non-teaching staff.
Part of this was done in Powerpoint, but with a lot of diagrams and things that couldn’t be easily explained verbally.
There were also written handouts (which were NOT just print outs of the entire Powerpoint presentation) given to audience members.
Not to blow my own trumpet, but far and away the thing that stood out as being different was my part.
Essentially we’d been struggling to find me a task for the project, with a lot of bases covered.
For the first two weeks I’d done very little, but a few days before we were due to make the presentation, I’d discovered and downloaded this relatively new piece of software, called Macromedia Flash (now known as Adobe Flash).
I’d learnt some of it, including motion blur animation, and worked out how to let the user move things around on screen, and so this became my section.
Where we had otherwise used photographs, I made a section that was interactive, and invited the audience to have a go with it.
Instead of showing them photographs or bullet points about the internal components, I could actually let them drag off covers, remove screws (it was an engineering course) and unwrap it themselves, albeit it in a basic manner compared to what Flash is used for (and capable of) nowadays.
Despite my fear of public speaking and performance, that was the best module of the entire course.
Powerpoint have any competition?
You can make basic presentations in Google Presentation (part of Google Docs – http://docs.google.com) for free.
Because it’s based online, you can share it with people all over the world too, if you should need to, and they can view it in any browser without installing additional software.
For something portable that doesn’t require an Internet connection, check out Apple Keynotes (http://www.apple.com/iwork/keynote).
It works very similar to Powerpoint, but it’s got considerably better transition effects, basic 3d animation, and fancy mirror reflections.
Just look at this video:
There’s different tools for different jobs, but I think if you don’t have anything visual to show (bullet points AREN’T essential), don’t use Powerpoint.
That said, photographs, pie charts, and other visual information needs to be displayed in some way, and Powerpoint is easy for that. Powerpoint can embed audio and video though, and run external software, so you don’t need to limit yourself to crappy Microsoft clip art and 1980’s transition effects, even if you stick with it.