Not for the first time during a conference I sit thinking about Edward Tuft. He was a critic of slideshow presentations and it is easy to understand why. Most of the time you find intelligent people failing to interact with their audience – not because the audience lacks the ability to comprehend but the technology used acts as a inhibitor rather than an enabler: The short version from Wikipedia
In his essay “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint”, Tufte criticizes many properties and uses of the software:
- It is used to guide and to reassure a presenter, rather than to enlighten the audience;
- It has unhelpfully simplistic tables and charts, resulting from the low resolution of early computer displays;
- The outliner causes ideas to be arranged in an unnecessarily deep hierarchy, itself subverted by the need to restate the hierarchy on each slide;
- Enforcement of the audience’s linear progression through that hierarchy (whereas with handouts, readers could browse and relate items at their leisure);
- Poor typography and chart layout, from presenters who are poor designers and who use poorly designed templates and default settings (in particular, difficulty in using scientific notation);
- Simplistic thinking, from ideas being squashed into bulleted lists, and stories with beginning, middle, and end being turned into a collection of disparate, loosely disguised points. This may present an image of objectivity and neutrality that people associate with science, technology, and “bullet points”.
It is also easy to remember Edward Tufte from this wonderful illustration by Mark Goetz:
I have many kittens on my conscious – did Dante have a level for powerpoint abusers?