Boring PowerPoint Presentations: Who’s to Blame?

Microsoft’s PowerPoint has become THE tool used for communicating a set of ideas to an academic or professional audience.  Is it an effective tool, does it get the job done?

Anyone that has ever went to college or worked in a company is all too familiar with the PowerPoint presentation.  They are notorious for being boring, hard to follow, leaving you feeling empty and confused at the end, like “was it my fault?”

It is now common place to blame boring presentations on PowerPoint. Don Norman, esteemed Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Northwestern University and co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group says the blame should not be placed on PowerPoint, but rather on the people that give boring presentations.

I agree with Norman, PowerPoint in and of itself is not to blame. I do think however, that a decade’s worth of depending on PowerPoint to “do the talking for us” has steadily deteriorated our presentation skills; we have effectively trained ourselves to use PowerPoint to give boring presentations.

PowerPoint gives presenters the ability to literally show the audience everything.  “Here are my graphs, here are my major points…any questions?”  But this is not what presentations are supposed to be about.  As Norman points out, the act of reading is very different than the act of listening, and our brains process information differently during each.

Presenters should focus on inspiring the audience, holding their interest, and maintaining a coherent speech that listeners can follow.  If too much focus is put on people reading slides, they will not listen to the presenter, and ultimately get completely lost.

PowerPoint should be viewed as an auxiliary tool, not the main focus of a presentation.

(In response to Don Norman’s essay, In Defense of PowerPoint )