What happens when disseminating information is not the goal?

New York Times article once more rips into the military use of Powerpoint for decision making: when will they ever learn?
[Via Les Posen’s Presentation Magic]

One of the slides I showed in my Presentation Magic workshop at Macworld Expo this year has now made it into a Powerpoint critique in a New York Times article, by Elizabeth Bimuller, entitled, “We have met the enemy and he is Powerpoint”. Here’s the featured slide from a war room Pentagon briefing:

Unfortunately, the projector at Macworld didn’t talk nice with my Macbook Pro so those present at the workshop couldn’t make it out too well, but here I think you get the picture. It is but one of several similar mappings in Powerpoint presentations to the US military leadership which the Times article describes thus:

Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No doubt there will be many who will complain, with some justification, that once more Powerpoint is being ripped into as a cause rather than the medium it is… but, as I have long written and demonstrated in my workshops, if it is only the medium, then why are 95% of presentations one sees so similarly disengaging with their overuse of text, bullet points and impenetrable graphics? That number increases to 99% if you randomly download Powerpoint presentations from the web (using any esoteric keyword you like in Google) and add .mil or .gov.

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Most times a slide presentation is used to disperse information to a group. But as mentioned here, hierarchical groups often have a need to prevent rapid flow of information.

Often it is because they have to give a public presentation and do not really want the public to understand. Obfuscation becomes the norm.

As the New York Times article mentions, the goal is to ‘hypnotize the chicken’, making the talk so boring that no one will ask any embarrassing questions.

There are two reasons for really poor presentation performances – ignorance of the right skills and purposeful misuse. It is hard to tell but the more hierarchical the group, the more likely the second reason is operating.