Geoffrey James harbours an unreasonable amount of hatred towards PowerPoint, making bold and unverifiable statements like ‘everyone hates PowerPoint’ or ‘even when used as intended [PowerPoint] does not fulfill its primary purpose, which is to help you communicate more effectively with your audience.’
It may be a tired cliché, but a poor workman blames his tools – and a worse workman writes blogs disparaging those same tools – especially when it becomes clear that workman doesn’t know how to use said tools in the first place. Seriously, Geoff, why so salty?
Opinion Breeds Ignorance
In October last year, Geoffrey published a blog with the headline, “Jeff Bezos Banned PowerPoint and It’s Arguably the Smartest Management Move He’s Ever Made”. Let’s put the hyperbole aside since Bezos’ smartest managerial moves has been offering an increasingly busier world a service of convenience while avoiding billions in corporate taxes and build such a massive empire that he still retained world’s richest man even after his divorce.
The first mistake here is Geoffrey’s misleading headline, since Bezos has banned PowerPoint in meetings, which makes sense since the software is better suited to presentation rather than open discussion/meetings. Bezos brought back the basics with this move, imploring staff to instead write up a six-page max. ‘narratively structured memo’ – no graphics, no videos, and no way to obscure information with pretty slides that add nothing to the meeting.
Again, this is an entirely reasonable position to hold, since presentations are there to persuade, while meetings are for planning and facilitating discussion. As Elabor8 Insights put it, ‘shifting from presentation culture to memo culture’. PowerPoint presentation is a fairly one-sided form of communicating, which is why questions are generally held off until the end. Meetings are usually open forums that thrive on exchanging ideas and opinions.
We would never encourage someone to design a PowerPoint presentation without planning out a script or outline first – so all Bezos has done is limit the presentation process to its early stages of planning and scriptwriting.
A more recent assault against PowerPoint penned by Geoffrey in January was titled, ‘It’s 2020. Why Are You Still Using PowerPoint?’ Putting aside the clickbaity two-sentence headline, let’s pick this blog apart to understand why the only thing we should cancel in 2020 is misguided hatred towards an innocent design program.
Geoffrey’s October 2018 article pleads a case for PowerPoint’s irrelevance in 2020, yet he cited studies from 2008 and 2005. Some free advice – when trying to demonstrate something’s modern relevance, maybe find some more recent research to support your tenuous arguments.
I discovered a paper, Erdemir (2011), which cited various studies including the 2008 one Geoffrey mentioned. The study’s abstract concluded, “The students at experimental group who participated in lectures supported by PPPs [PowerPoint presentations] had higher grades than the control group who were solely taught through traditional presentations. The present study supports the premise that the ‘intelligent use’ of PPPs in physics instruction is capable of increasing the students’ success.”
Furthermore, as other writers have highlighted, Geoffrey takes a very buffet-style approach to research – often referencing studies that flat-out refute his case. Shoutout to Jon Schwabish from PolicyViz, who also took the time to dispel all the dangerous fake news Geoffrey has spread about our favourite design program.
Jon’s blog picks apart another of Geoffrey’s blogs that claimed, “PowerPoint is the worst productivity tool in all creation”. Synapsis Creative has designers, writers, and Fortune-500 clients that will all proclaim PowerPoint’s ability to help us be more productive, reactive, and collaborative. We’ve written numerous articles about PowerPoint’s versatility and ease of use; to say it’s the “worst productivity tool in all creation” demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of PowerPoint’s purpose and how to use it – let alone intelligently, eh, Geoff?
Jon also found that Geoffrey has a nasty habit of citing from researchers’ abstracts rather than their actual studies and, in one instance, lifted his findings from a magazine article that referenced academic research rather than directly from the study. That’s just lazy journalism – do your own research!
I know this era of rapid-fire news means a lot of us receive information second or third hand, but Geoffrey cites articles and research that refute his claims, which he would have noticed if he’d bothered reading them all.
As Jon put it, “By just reading the abstract, [Geoffrey] James misses the more important and more relevant finding that it is PowerPoint presentations with irrelevant information that inhibit learning, not PowerPoint presentations in general. The authors of this paper also do a nice job summarising the existing research, which is funny because it refutes James’ entire argument.”
In another case of poor research, Geoffrey cited a study that was funded by PowerPoint competitor, Prezi. And while that doesn’t necessarily void the research, it does make you question the motivations behind a presentation-software company funding research against its own competitors.
Besides, Uz et al. (2010) and Spernjak (2014) found that PowerPoint is a user-friendly resource that is more highly preferred by students and teachers compared to other teaching methods or presentation software, including Prezi.
Let ‘Genius’ Rest In Peace*
True to form, Geoffrey whined more about PowerPoint in early February this year with a piece titled, ‘The real reason Steve Jobs hated PowerPoint’. My key issue here is Geoffrey’s twisting of the quote within his own headline and essentially writing an entire article clarifying his own mistake. As Geoffrey quoted in his blog, Steve Jobs said, “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking… People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”
How could that be interpreted as a “hatred” for PowerPoint itself? The way I see it, people who don’t know what they’re talking about, attack PowerPoint. Even Geoffrey admits, “If I interpret the quote correctly, Steve Jobs wanted presentation graphics (regardless of how created and displayed) to be limited to situations where somebody was presenting to a large audience and not used as general tool for running regular day-to-day meetings.”
Steve Jobs’ reasoning hardly sounds like “hate” to me; more like a confident public speaker renouncing those that use PowerPoint slides as a crutch or during more personal settings. Real hatred would call for a blanket ban of PowerPoint (kind of like Geoffrey’s irrational crusade), which is something neither Jeff Bezos nor the late Steve Jobs could do since both use/d presentation software when launching products.
*Apple’s careless use of the word ‘genius’ has always come across self-aggrandising for its staff and condescending to its customers. The only genius we recognise here is The Genius of Ray Charles. Rest easy, Brother Ray.
In his January 2020 blog, Geoffrey noted that “using PowerPoint as a media viewer is massive overkill”. As a media viewer, certainly, it’s less than ideal. However, PowerPoint was designed to create first and display later – it’s not a built-to-purpose media player. While viewing media on it is entirely possible; creating multimedia (and potentially interactive) content on a single platform makes PowerPoint a beast for versatility and flexibility. Can you find me another software that can animate, edit image, audio, and video, and still be used by schoolkids?
Geoffrey then goes on to say, “Consider: Such data stored as jpg or mp4 files consumes a tiny fraction of the resources consumed by a ppt file, and, moreover, it can be displayed on any device (including smartphones) without requiring a pricey and bloated software package.”
Oh Geoffrey, PowerPoint is for designing and presenting. PowerPoint files – like literally any other file – only take up as much memory as the content put into them. For example, a photo taken from my phone was automatically saved as a jpg file (4.3MB). I opened a new PowerPoint file, dropped the photo into the presentation, and saved the pptx file (2.1MB). The image retained its quality within the PowerPoint file, and I can edit, repurpose, and animate far more easily than using anything in Adobe Creative Suite.
Besides, PowerPoint offers numerous ways to compress media files so sharing and presenting is less demanding for devices. Again, Geoffrey shouldn’t go blaming software for doing exactly what its programmed to do when he scarcely understands how to use it in the first place. Calling PowerPoint ‘pricey and bloated’ only makes sense for someone who hasn’t the faintest clue just how much you can create and design with the software.
Another wildly inaccurate statement Geoffrey hit us with is, “To make matters worse, because PowerPoint presentations are almost always accompanied by handouts, audiences are discouraged from taking notes with pen or pencil.” However, James et al. (2006) have already expressed PowerPoint’s positive impact on encouraging student note taking.
PowerPoint even has two built-in functions to facilitate note taking: one while designing (‘Notes’ in the bottom status bar) and one for presentation. If you hit ‘File’ then ‘Print’, in the print settings you can choose how many slides per page of the handout and whether to include lines next to each slide for the taking of notes.
Adams (2006) noted that students found PowerPoint to be a valuable cognitive tool and slide printouts were useful for reviewing content. Also, didn’t Jeff Bezos scrap PowerPoint in meetings and opt for six-page handouts? So are handouts right or wrong here, Geoff? Because it seems like your own case studies are contradicting you at this point.
According to Geoffrey, “PowerPoint has another huge disadvantage: It constricts discussion. Despite the obligatory ‘feel free to interrupt me at any time’ remark, interruptions during PowerPoint presentations are clearly unwelcome (by presenter and audience alike), because they make the presentation even longer.”
I’m not saying this is entirely inaccurate, but the deeper question is: How is this PowerPoint’s fault?! This is extrapolation fallacy with zero evidence to support Geoffrey’s wild claims. The main thing that constricts discussion is closedmindedness – like the vitriolic anti-PowerPoint sentiments that Geoffrey continues spitting again, and again, and again.
Besides, Nouri & Shahid (2005) found that properly designed presentations that were prepared with well-arranged content enhance student efficiency in note taking, with PowerPoint presentations having a positive effect on memory.
Duman & Atar (2004) expressed that PowerPoint presentations enhanced the academic achievement of students and motivation with respect to the teaching of abstract subjects like climatology in the course of geography.
Wecker (2012) and Chanlin (2000) discovered that PowerPoint presentations prepared to be in order and comprehensive help students better remember the subjects. While Akdağ & Tok, (2008) and Gürbüz et al. (2010) found that students taught through PowerPoint presentations achieve higher levels academically.
Hertz (2015) produced a 200-page research paper looking at the presentation of conference papers with PowerPoint. The study noted that, “The apparent user friendliness (the fact that presenters who lack any previous training are able to create PowerPoint slides), disguises the fact that presentations with the program are in fact complex interactions between slides, presenter behaviour and audience which require new skills and knowledge.”
Seriously, Geoffrey, the only plausible reason to be this angry at inanimate software is if that software invaded your homeland and colonised your culture. Sure, we’ve all suffered through some boring and ill-prepared PowerPoint presentations in our lifetimes – but no rational human being blames the presentation software. If my wife leaves me for someone she met on Facebook, I can’t go suing Mark Zuckerberg.
Or as explained by Hertz (2015), “If we look at PowerPoint presentations as performances, we can see that presenters must be designers, actors and directors at the same time. It is clear that PowerPoint elicits behaviour that is not always consistent with what is considered to be good presentation form. This, however, is not the fault of the program.”
For a more comprehensive library of academic studies that contradict Geoffrey’s statements and demonstrate PowerPoint’s ability to educate and communicate, you can download: ‘PowerPoint as an Academic Resource’