PowerPoint: A curable illness, or a symptom of a terminal cancer?

Kristin Piombino’s recent Ragan Report story, “Top three PowerPoint annoyances revealed in new survey,” proves one thing: the amazing, purely negative power of the poor, misused PowerPoint tool. Employed like a senior-citizen’s walker by incompetent executive presenters, it provokes widespread boredom, anger, despair, and even rage in American corporate audiences.

It was thus from the beginning. As soon as corporate speakers learned how to use PowerPoint, they wielded it as a crutch and as an excuse to avoid thinking about organizing their subject, rehearsing their presentation, and learning the tricks of fluent, pleasing public speech.

An Oxford Union speaker once said to his American debating opponents in a moment of heated irritation, “You remind me of a drunkard leaning on a lamppost of facts.” That inspired phrase exactly describes 99.9% of corporate PowerPoint presenters.

Their great mistake: They think if they give their audiences 500 facts and 50 concepts in any old order on 10 overloaded PowerPoint slides, they’ve done their duty and no one can complain.

Of course, the ultimate explanation of why corporate presenters think that reading minor, irrelevant facts from their slides word by word for an hour at a time is necessary will probably remain one of the mysteries of corporate communication to the end of time.

It is certain that one unforeseen effect of neglecting coursework in speech giving and English composition in grade school, high school, and graduate business school has been the raising of a whole generation—millions of people who should never be allowed in front of any group whatsoever!— of the most boring, toxic public speakers the world has ever seen.

And these oblivious gabblers, who might as well be mutes for all the “communicating” they do, have provoked more innocent sufferers to explosions of impotent rage than all our national conventions and political rallies have elicited from political partisans in the last 220 years of our history. Think about that for a moment.

The farcical spectacle proves again what I’ve said for the last 20 years: American corporate executives and managers hate the spoken, and the written word, distrust it, despise it, and wish it were gone from the sacred corporate precincts forever. And they infect supervisors and staffers in every nook and cranny of the business with that same contempt and hatred.

Don’t tell me this is a “problem of communication.” I wish it were so simple! It’s a deep-seated instinct, a permanent mood. That’s why consultants and other highly-paid meddlers wrestle futilely with this “prahblem” decade after decade. That’s why it’s getting worse.

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