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February 10, 2010

Sorry, could you please sit down? I'm trying to read your PowerPoint.

It's a good thing that I liked Ian Parker's writing style to be engaging because he was discussing one of my least favorite topics. PowerPoint. (yawn)

In Parker's article, "Absolute PowerPoint," in Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age, he says on page 353 "You are judged by it - you insist on being judged by it," although I don't know exactly how he meant this to be, it reminded me of my senior year of high school in my AP Government class. There were only twelve of us in the class because it was apparently the "hardest class that Lincoln High School offers." (I didn't think it was that bad.) Anyway, we all used PowerPoint in our class presentations and since we were put in the category of "the best students in the senior class" we always tried to out-due each other with our PowerPoint. We used different layouts, different sounds and all kinds of animation. We were judged on it and we did insist on being judged. Just like Parker says. I now see this all as pathetic.

I have always hated PowerPoint but feel that I hate it even more now that I'm a Communication major. When we have class presentations now, I hate that question that some student, without missing a beat, has always asked, "Do you want us to make a PowerPoint?" If I was the professor I'd probably fail that student without question. I understand when Parker calls it the "antidote to fear" on page 354 because not everyone is comfortable with public speaking. I get it, some people get a little stage fright, that's fine, but it's not fine when you're entire speech if written on the PowerPoint and you're reading it off the screen and adding some hand gestures to make it seem like you're actually giving a speech. Sit down, I can read for myself. Thank you.

That might have been harsh. Let me back up. PowerPoint was made to AID a presentation, not MAKE a presentation. This goes along with my favorite saying of "is the PowerPoint using you or are you using the PowerPoint?" Too many times I see students being used by the PowerPoint and not looking professional in the least bit considering I can read a slide faster to myself than they seem to be able to read it out loud. When I am forced to use a PowerPoint (yes, this has happened) I put the least amount of information on it as possible. PowerPoint is for notes, or words that will remind you of things you're supposed to say or to show a movie clip or picture or a chart. It was not made so you have a giant version of your entire speech in front of other people that you can read to them.

My favorite part of Parker's article is when he raises the issue on presentation vs. conversation. I feel like this issue goes back to my opinion on the oral vs. written communication. In that case, are you really learning when you are simply reading or are you learning when you're in the moment learning from another person and seeing first hand what is going on, with the ability to ask questions to the expert. In the PowerPoint case, when you're doing a presentation are you engaging your audience with your information and then having a CONVERSATION with them, or are you just presenting information? This makes me continue to side with the oral form of communication, because if someone has their presentation fully written out on the PowerPoint, I don't pay attention to them, honestly them being there is pointless, I'm in college I know how to read. But when someone is able to use a little amount of notes on the PowerPoint and is interacting with the audience and stepping away from the mouse to click to the next slide (because they don't even need those slides) I'm more likely to not only pay attention, but also to learn more.    

3 Comments

Chelsea, I agree with the point you made that PowerPoint was made to "aid" a presentation and not for "making" the presentation. I too, have witnessed presentations like that and have probably been guilty of reading word for word on some slides. But I do think that PowerPoints can be very helpful especially when it comes to grabbing attention, which is something you really have to think about when dealing with an audience. I deal with kids alot and by flashing their favorite character across the screen in order to get them to do something or teach a lesson, it can be quite effective.

I agree with you when you mention kids, Tiffany. PowerPoint does great wonders for us at camp to teach songs to all of the kids but I feel like that is the only time when animation and writing every word you're going to say is acceptable.

I like when you talked about the presenter being pointless if there is a PowerPoint because it is true; my attention is only focused on reading the PowerPoint and not what the presenter is doing. When I had a business class freshman year, my professor lectured using PowerPoint but I never payed attention to him because I was taking notes from the PowerPoint. There were times the professor got confused because when the PowerPoint was over the class started packing up their stuff and he wasn't done yet. What he failed to realize was that most of the time, when the PowerPoint was over, class was done.

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