Re: [xmca] Subtleties of Presentation Media

From: Jay Lemke (
Date: Sat Feb 17 2007 - 19:25:56 PST

I was smiling to read of David's discomfiture with PPT. There was a
wired article not long ago "Powerpoint is Evil", and Edward Tufte,
the godfather of informatic presentation, has a beautiful print essay
shredding its design and use.

I think about this every time I use, and curse, PPT. If someone else
used my PPT slides, my main concern would be embarassment. For me,
they are merely a pretext (literally?) for my commentary, _and they
change their meaning for the audience because of my commentary_. In
fact they have almost no meaning on their own ... they are like the
sound-bites of politicians, vague enough to be interpreted in many
ways by many readers, and becoming specified with my meanings only
when elaborated and contextualized by what I say as I present them.

And I often say very different things re-using the same slides in
different presentations.

I have tried to kick the PPT habit ... it's actually much better very
often to create an HTML file and scroll through it, or even hyperlink
it with others, but I've discovered that trying to switch between
macs and pc's that way is very tricky (not that it's all that simple
with PPT either). Movies work better in PPT, I think, and that's the
only advantage I know.

So why do I use it? because it's fast and I'm busy, because people
expect it, because people are satisfied that if I've done a PPT, then
I've prepared properly for a talk, and because I usually speak
extemporaneously anyway with only an outline of key points. The PPT
is more my notes to myself, with some window dressing (images mainly)
to keep the audience amused, or distracted from what I'm saying.

I never use PPT in class. I create a WORD document with my notes and
narrate that to the class, then post it to a class web tools site.
Sketchy as it may be, it's far more "textualized" than PPT. Of course
I teach almost exclusively doctoral students these days. If I were
teaching undergrads, I might as well poison them as let them use a
PPT in lieu of classnotes.

I think the real popularity, and origins, of PPT arise from people
not really having anything to say, but wanting to look good anyway.
The more I have to say, the less suitable the PPT format is. I gave
up early on adding more and more to a slide, when the font got so
small people couldn't read it any more! But it's not just quantity,
it's also depth of content that doesn't fit on a PPT. Perhaps a great
poet, in the 20th draft, could find some way to make a profound point
in 5 -12 words. I am rarely so lucky.

What did I do before PPT? I wrote out a whole paper for every talk,
highlighted key sections so I could use it like an outline, talking
through it, and read short bits that I had worded more carefully than
I could reproduce spontaneously. It worked very well, but it was a
LOT of work. Especially as I never gave the same talk twice. That is
I wrote a completely new paper for every talk. Now I recycle PPT
slides the way I once did with overhead transparencies (another
superior medium), and weave anew with 50% recycled fibers.


>A few days ago I gave a PowerPoint presentation of my research to our
>department. After the presentation, a graduate teaching assistant in the
>department whom I've known for a number of years asked me if he could have
>a copy of the presentation so that he could follow-up with one of his
>classes (some of his students also were at the presentation). I immediately
>agreed, but after some debate with myself, I decided to give him hard copy
>of the slides instead. The medium of PowerPoint would erode the boundaries
>between him and me.
>Here's a snippet from my note to him. I wonder if this phenomenon has been
>observed/discussed before in the media literature.
>Comments welcome.
>David Kirshner
>Hi xxxx,
>I've copied out all of my slides (about 50), and left them in your mailbox.
>I'd intended to send you the PowerPoint presentation itself, but in the end
>felt uncomfortable about doing that.
>It's an interesting media phenomenon. If I give you photocopies of the
>slides and you distribute them for discussion to your students, it's very
>clear what are the boundaries between my contribution, and yours. The
>slides are mine, the discussion is yours. However, the PowerPoint medium is
>inherently incomplete. If you present my slides as a PowerPoint
>presentation, it no longer is possible to clearly demarcate our boundaries.
>That's because the in the PowerPoint setting, the slides are inseparable
>from the commentary. Thus it's not possible to distinguish what part of the
>commentary is you and what part is me.
>xmca mailing list


JAY L. LEMKE Educational Studies University of Michigan 610 East University Ann Arbor, MI 48109

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