Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts


Is PowerPoint the Enemy?

posted by Mark D. Roberts

I just finished reading an intriguing article in the New York Times: “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint” by Elisabeth Bumiller. Bumiller documents the omnipresence of PowerPoint in military briefings as well as the growing disdain for PowerPoint among those who give and receive these briefings.

Here are some representative excerpts:

powerpoint-navy-5.jpg“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps,
the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in
North Carolina. (Photo: A naval vice admiral makes a presentation with PowerPoint.)

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and
the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone
interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not
bullet-izable.”

Despite such tales, “death by PowerPoint,” the phrase used to described
the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here
to stay. The program,
which first went on sale in 1987 and was acquired by Microsoft soon
afterward, is deeply embedded in a military culture that has come to
rely on PowerPoint’s hierarchical ordering of a confused world.

Gen. David H. Petraeus,
who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting
through some PowerPoint briefings is “just agony,” nonetheless likes
the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends. He
has also conducted more than a few PowerPoint presentations himself.

Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page
paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish
writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers
presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of
legal briefs.

Of course the military isn’t the only place one finds PowerPoint presentations. The use of digital projection is common in schools, universities, and churches. Many pastors use PowerPoint (or similar programs) in preaching and teaching.

So what do you think? Is PowerPoint the enemy? Or could it be a friend? When is the use of PowerPoint acceptable, even effective? When does it “make us stupid”? What do you think about PowerPoint in church? In sermons? 



  • jestrfyl

    Powerpoint is simply a dustless chalkboard. the advantage is that the room has to be darkened so it can be more effectively seen. This means that cat / power naps are less easily detected. Other than that, I see only brighter colors and moving images, but no actually improved information.
    We do not use it in church, except for a few presentations. I have been informed by members that they would not come if we tried to use it in worship (I agree – it is an easy distraction that takes away from the interpersonal experience).
    Powerpoint is a flashy tool – no more or less than that.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Yes, a dustless chalkboard, or a hi-tech slide projector.

  • http://lacson.name Patrick Lacson

    Mark,
    I use Powerpoint (ppt) at work and working remotely I sit through many PPT presentations. It boils down to the presenter. Do they have good content and able to deliver the material clearly? I’ve noticed that the most boring presentations are when the presenter assumes the audience can’t read and just reads every bullet point on the slide!
    PPT is meant to be an aid not the source of the content. The source of the content should be the presenter and the slides an aid.

  • http://livingwatercommunitychurch.org/ Lisa

    I respectfully disagree about Power Point in the church. Our congregation uses it often. We are a diverse congregation. We have brothers and sisters from as far away as Congo, Cuba, Nepal, and Cambodia. Many of these new friends are refugees and have little or no English. We often use Power Point to display the verses of a text, in multi-language, and often if using English, we use pictures for the Bible stories. (This helps with children as well!) It is an effective teaching tool when used in moderation, and has helped to unite a diverse group of believers to one faith Jesus!

  • Howard WIlson

    Edward Tufte, the graphics and communications wizard, has a great essay and poster about the cognitive style of PowerPoint.
    edwardtufte.com
    In short, he doesn’t like it.

  • Salcia

    PowerPoint doesn’t have to be the enemy. I made a ton of PowerPoint presentations during my library school years, and watched even more. The problem isn’t the PowerPoint presentation, which can be very engaging and visually exciting. It’s the fact that many people are too lazy to use it in an engaging way. They throw a bunch of bullet points into a pre-designed template to speed through the creation of a lacklustre,dull presentation. Used creatively, it can work beautifully, but few people are interested in making the effort.
    So I’m afraid PowerPoint is just a tool, to be used for good or ill by the people working with it. In other words, we have met the enemy, and it is ourselves.

  • http://getstimulustoday.com Matches Malone

    The theory is that instead of spending time creating a PowerPoint presentation, your time would be better spent actually putting together an effective speech or whatever, and not relying on it. In church, depending on who’s giving the sermon, I’m ok with it, however, overuse every week would get annoying.

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