Tata-Dhan Academy: PDM

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Programme in Development Management

Liberty from PowerPoint

By Limlenlal Mate

PowerPoint is a form of slide ware presentation used as a tool for delivering messages in presentation by the presenter. In PowerPoint presentations, the important points are displayed in bullet points which are arranged in a structured frame work. It was first developed by Forethought in April 1987 and was later brought by Microsoft in July the same year. Since then, the popularity of PowerPoint spread far and wide through the world. It penetrates the business sector and the military, as well as the educational institutions. It is said that 30 millions PowerPoint presentations are delivered every day.

PowerPoint is essentially a delivery mechanism to ensure that the message is delivered appropriately in a predetermined structural frame work. This predetermined structure, which often rules out flexibility, can be critically described as a march ‘towards a predetermined conclusion’ (Hanft, 2003). Edward K. Tufte, Professor Emeritus at Yale, also said that when using PowerPoint, the audience is being lured to accept the highly biased, ‘hierarchical distinctions’ of the data entered which by any way is unacceptable and medievalist.

PowerPoint’s popularity is increasing each day and its use is advocated by academic institutions for the students a part of the curriculum, where the students are taught to used the systems (Tufte, 2003). The increasing usage has made Hanft to even identify it as a ‘lingua franca’ in the business world and government. Its adoption makes the presentations much easier for the speaker, where the work load is distributed between the speaker and the slide ware. It’s a tool and an aid which is used as a helper.

Many people termed it as a tool for making lively presentation and a mechanism to keep the attention of the audience vibrant. But Tufte claims that, ‘audience boredom’ is a result of ‘content failure’, not a decoration failure. Indeed, to capture audience attention mainly depends upon the speaker’s capability and adroitness to deliver. There are many memorable long-lasting highly forceful messages delivered without using PowerPoint presentations, for example, the messages of religious leaders, not to mention of the olden days when PowerPoint was not available. Even in the present times, there are some good examples, for example, the presentation of the budget by Finance Minister P Chidambaram Singh. Had he used PowerPoint to present the budget with all those numbers, it would have given a much distorted image. The style of presentation and the sentences spoken wouldn’t be as captivating as it was. Although there are many ca critiques on the budget, at the face value, the budget was very much impressive and through the form of presentation, it could lure many people to believe that the budget was excellent. Such is the originality and sincerity of oral presentations without PowerPoint. Had it been fragmented into points as done in the satiric presentation of Gettysburg Cemetery Dedication by Abraham Lincoln by Norvig (1999), the presentation of the budget would never be the same.

There are many advantages of not using PowerPoint. It gives flexibility for the speaker and the situation to flow according to the context. The way PowerPoint’s are used in the Academy is to save face, where PowerPoint is being worshiped into, and the speaker voice mumbles in the background of the slide. There cannot be any interaction of the speaker and the audience. The audience are carried away carried away into the slide up to the conclusion of the slide show. As mentioned by Tufte (2003) it is punishing to both content and the audience.

The reason why PowerPoint is highly glorified is due to the emerging trend of human attitude of seeking superiority over others. The audience are made to move according to the structure set by speakers without any room for flexibility (Hanft, 2003). It is also due to the incapacity of the speakers to train themselves and laziness to give efforts to the presentation. It is mainly a face saver, to divert the mind of the audience, because, getting people’s attention—especially in a large congregation—is no easy task; it requires vigorous training for public speaking.

Nevertheless, PowerPoint, if used in such a way to supplement the message, and not as a substitute to the speaker, can be very helpful (Tufte, 2003). For this an extensive practice and research can be carried out based on behaviour of the audience. But total dependence on PowerPoint is unadvisable, as it makes the situation too formal and gives power to the speaker alone. Rather, talents and creativity should be developed to deliver messages anyplace, anytime in open and closed place where the audience and the speaker get equality. Especially for development workers, although PowerPoint is sometimes advocated, lively presentation skills without any aid should developed, so that the limitations of PowerPoint to apply anywhere can be ruled out. For PowerPoint presentation there are minimum requirements like a closed room, electric connection, an LCD projector, and a computer. Should the skills of a speaker be suppressed and be dependent on the availability of these factors? Its right time to come out of the clutches and be independent and exercise our liberty.

References

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2 Responses

  1. subhashgautam says:

    JUST A NOTE ON POWER POINT:
    please start using alternatives to proprietary software. i think the academy should go open source and be free (as in freedom).
    you seem to be already using open source tools please make it the norm instead of the exception.
    subhash

  2. Ananda Mahto says:

    Subhash,

    We (or at least I) certainly support open source applications. In fact, although most of my colleagues insist on sticking with MS Office, I use OpenOffice.org for all my work purposes. So, for me it’s the norm. For the Academy, I am the exception. But I’m not too sure how to change that. Any ideas?

    That said, the idea of this article isn’t exactly about “PowerPoint,” but rather, on the way that presentation skills haven’t really improved because of the tool. I would say that many of my students spend more time designing their PowerPoint presentations than they do on actually thinking about what they want to say, and this, obviously, doesn’t work in their favor when they have to present in class….

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