The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint

The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint outlines Tufte’s view of PowerPoint, what PowerPoint is used for, when the software is effective, and more. Tufte’s biggest point is that PowerPoint is not content or audience oriented but rather presenter oriented. Having the slides up there does not help the content because what it does do is it takes the content and chops it up into little reminder pieces. The slides don’t help the audience because they are more interested in having a conversation. That means PowerPoint is presenter oriented since it allows the person pitching to get organized  and figure out the big points that they want to touch upon.

One of the other big points that I enjoyed reading about was the transitions that you can set to your slides. Tufte makes the point that it would be more beneficial to allow the client or the audience being presented to control the speed at which the information is being given to them. That is a great point I had never thought of before and is normally why I print out my slides before presentations to give to the audience. I do this because if they need to look at something a little longer or if they want to take notes about each slide, they can. But now even thinking about that, if they are taking longer to look at slides that means they’re not listening as I present further so that’s an interesting predicament to try and overcome.  Tufte does support the print outs but it’s just an overall thought that I had.

The analysis of the NASA spaceflight of shuttle Columbia presentation was definitely interesting. Tufte suggests methods for how to not get tricked when looking at a PowerPoint presentation. The goal is to learn exactly what the presenter’s story is and whether or not you can believe that story. The whole analysis shows that the executive summary is displayed in the headline insufficiently, the conservatism aspect of the slide is a huge concern, the bulleted points contort information, the brevity eliminates necessary phrases, and unnecessary adjectives are incorporated.

Tufte also talks about how using PowerPoint to report technical work leads to presenters damaging their credibility because review boards determined that PowerPoint is an inappropriate tool for engineering reports, presentations, and documentations. Additionally, the technical report is superior to PowerPoint so it makes no sense to distill information down making it less impressive than it already is.

There are a variety of other points that Tufte makes throughout the piece but all in all he finds it to be an ineffective tool. Every case in which somebody would use PowerPoint was shot down by Tufte for having some sort of presentational flaw that inhibits the ability for the presenter to communicate or more importantly tell a story. In my eyes Tufte is advising us not to use PowerPoint when giving a presentation. He has a variety of reasons why he hates it so much and applies those reasons to real world case studies.

I was planning on using a PowerPoint for my presentation as I’ve given hundreds of presentations before using PowerPoint but after reading this I think I’m going to use this class as an opportunity to try it his way. I am going to attempt to communicate the information in my proposal not using a PowerPoint but rather making it a more relaxed conversation, such as Dr. Porter’s lesson videos. Clients, especially my Built In client, responds much better when they are talked to and not presented to. While this might not be the conventional way to do something like this, I am going to take a risk and see if I can execute properly without using PowerPoint and instead of presenting, having more of a conversation.

The link leading to Lessig’s Method of presentation was broken but when watching the YouTube video I still think that Tufte would not approve. While it was simple it broke rules that Tufte laid out such as letting your audience move at their pace and distilling a story down into less than it really was to give two. While it was much more interesting than a normal PowerPoint and while I enjoyed it, it was still a PowerPoint and because of that I think Tufte wouldn’t agree.

While some of his points make sense, the only concept that gets me is PowerPoint is used all around the world. It’s used by 4th graders to present their zoo report on toucans and it’s used by Fortune 100 companies to convince their leadership that a change needs to be made in business operations. Millions of PowerPoint presentations are given every year and if the tool was so ineffective don’t you think people would stop using it? Or better yet, don’t you think that people like Tufte who have HUGE problems with the software would just go out and build an “effective” tool that everybody could use instead? I’m not saying I agree or disagree with Tufte and I already said I’m going to give his story telling method a try for this project however, I’ve given hundreds of PowerPoint presentations. They’ve helped me teach younger kids how to be a leader, they’ve allowed me to win national awards for my business fraternity project work, they’ve gotten me A+ grades in college classes, and they helped me convince my dad to buy me a horse when I was younger. I’m not saying I have a personal connection with the software but what I’m trying to get at is if PowerPoint is so ineffective the way Tufte has made it sound, then why haven’t we stopped using it and found a new way to communicate with each other?

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This entry was published on August 4, 2013 at 9:28 pm and is filed under Untitled. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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