Shel Holtz rebuts PowerPoint pilers-on; and I rebut Shel Holtz

Communication guru Shel Holtz loves him some technology, and so I wasn’t surprised last week when he rebutted the pilers-on to a strong New York Times piece about how much time is wasted putting together ineffective PowerPoint presentations, and gaping at them.

Holtz acknowledges that most PPT presos put people to sleep, but he claims (and shows, with good examples) that PowerPoint can be used brilliantly. He concludes:

… people need to be taught the right and wrong uses of PowerPoint. Would you get rid of hammers if your employees were using  them to pound screws into wood? No, you’d teach them to use a screwdriver and show them when it’s appropriate to use a hammer.

Holtz’s argument strikes me as logically right but practically pointy-headed, because:

We know organizations won’t invest heavily in PowerPoint training … and I’d argue that they shouldn’t, because they’d be throwing good money after bad. What, you’re going to bring in an army of presentation coaches to transform every potential presenter in the organization—many of whom can’t write a coherent e-mail—into a sophisticated and sensitive balancer of verbal and visual communication cues?

No, you’re not. And so in 95% of its applications, PowerPoint will go on being the thought-substitution smoke machine it has been all along.

I won’t push for a ban on PowerPoint, because I live in Chicago, and in Chicago you never back a loser. People really don’t like to think, and most people who make presentations don’t have any one clear point to make. They have a few dozen random thoughts, which they can’t organize in their head, so they sprinkle them onto slides and call them “bullets.” (They’re still random thoughts!)

But I am thinking about organizing a PowerPoint-free conference.

Wouldn’t that be a complete friggin’ trip?

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