We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint

This the headline to the central story in today’s New York Times. The story is about the overuse of PowerPoint by the US military, especially in Afghanistan. It centers around a particular PowerPoint slide (shown below) attempting to portray the complexity of US strategy in the region.

The article discusses that a Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraq city of Tal Afar.

Leading on from this,  you may be aware, that next weeks UK event the Embedded Masterclass has also banned PowerPoint from its technical presentations. To quote from the website:

This year we have asked the presenters of the 40 min Technical Presentations to ‘abandon Power Point’ . Instead they will have a white board, a flip chart and hand-outs and of course – their wit and charm ! We want to bring a bit of life back into these kinds of events and raise the standards. We are hoping this will lead to a better and more inter-active presentation. It is already causing the presenters to think more carefully about what they intend to present and how it will be structured.

I understand the sentiment, but I’m sorry but No; PowerPoint is just a tool. Banning (or abandoning) PowerPoint is not addressing the root problem.

For anyone who wants to do a professional job of presenting then there are great reference materials out there (e.g. Presentation Zen, silde:ology, beyond bullet points, etc.).

In reality many poor presentations are due to a lack of a proper review process prior to the event(admittedly some people just can’t present). All presentations should be backed up by a hand-out technical paper and not just a print-out of the slides (eliminating the need for lots of technical detail on a slides). Finally, being someone who has to regularly present  5 days of detailed technical training on embedded systems, white boards and flip charts just aren’t big enough for a large audience (unless you can write REALLY BIG).

To combat this problem of free form notes to a large audience, at Feabhas we have been using a really cool tool called PaperShow to augment the slides. Ideally we’d use two projectors, but this isn’t typically practical. Alternatively you could go back to the “good old days” on OHPs, foils and pens.

As I’ll be at the Cambridge event (as we’re running an Embedded Linux training class) I’m really interested in how it actually works and my concerns will hopefully be proven wrong. Hopefully see you there…

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About Niall Cooling

Co-Founder and Director of Feabhas since 1995. Niall has been designing and programming embedded systems for over 30 years. He has worked in different sectors, including aerospace, telecomms, government and banking. His current interest lie in IoT Security and Agile for Embedded Systems.
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