Post-PowerPoint stress disorder

It’s not exactly pushing the boundaries to say you don’t like PowerPoint. Our common dislike has even become a sort of business non-apology apology. When someone says “I know the last thing you want is death by PowerPoint ha ha”, what they are really saying is, “Sod you. You’re getting 20 slides whether it’s the last thing you want or not.”

I was trying to work out how much of my life I have spent looking at PowerPoint slides. Over the last 15 years, as an absolute minimum, I have spent at least three hours a week looking at presentations. If I spend 12 hours a day awake and get Sundays off to sit in the corner crying softly, that’s two weeks of every year. When I got involved with the exciting worlds of business and technology, sitting in room trying to work out why I am staring at pictures of two racially diverse men shaking hands wasn’t how I saw my future.

I earn some of my money presenting webcasts, where often the preparation time includes the following conversation:

Me: What does the slide with the man punching the air in front of the graph with the line going up next to the cloud inside the interlocking oval shapes balancing on the three pillars mean?
Vendor: (consults notes) It means we add value.

I’ve collected three examples of the type of slides that have been quietly making me crazy in 2009. I know the last thing you want is death by PowerPoint, but I could make that into three bullet points, maybe add a flow chart of my slow descent into fatal madness, perhaps some clip art of a doctor strapping me into the straightjacket…

First category: What the hell are you looking at? Or: why have so many slides got pictures of casually-dressed self-consciously ordinary people looking into the middle distance on them? Like this one from Cap Gemini:

If you’re wondering what the bland expression on the face of the data centre manager is meant to imply to us, I have discovered that he’s thinking these batman pyjamas are comfortable. I offer you this as evidence: recognise the expression?

(Click on the picture to buy the pyjamas. They’re top value at £22 from Great Universal. I’m hoping for commission).

Second, if you need three paragraphs to explain the diagram then you didn’t draw the bloody picture properly. Note to IBM: when you show your diagram to people and they tell you it needs some explanation or it looks like a lot of blobs with arrows coming out of them, don’t make the explanation even more opaque than the picture:

And third, what are you graphing against what? I’m talking about diagrams with the structure of something along the bottom and then two different categories up the sides and then layers of other things at the top and then lines across the middle and then some extra blobs that don’t relate to the graph in the top corners. Best done using bright colours or 3-D shapes so that no one notices.

I know the last thing you want is death by PowerPoint but this next one might just kill you. Combining elements of all the above, here’s one from Big PowerPoint itself that just makes no sense at all:

If you created this slide, I’ll enable one more business imperative for you: I’ll give you a mug if you can explain what it means to me. If the rest of you have any slides that you think deserve an unsympathetic audience, you know who to send them to.

I take comfort in the knowledge that, though I have lost months of my life looking at these crimes against communication, I’m better off than the poor sap who spent years training as a graphic designer and then ended up having to draw them.

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8 Responses to “Post-PowerPoint stress disorder”


  1. 1 Ellie Springett December 2, 2009 at 9:35 am

    This post really made me laugh, as I find my way through some nonsense about delivery channels and verifcation formats. Hysterical. You should try Policy people’s slides, they really are hysterical.

  2. 5 Tim Phillips December 2, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Richard: I’m on Guy K’s side too. Funny thing is, when I nag people about this, so are they. I have spoken to literally no-one in business in the last 10 years who thinks their company uses the right amount of PowerPoint and their slides couldn’t easily be improved.

    I think fewer presentations are personal these days – they’re (oh god) collateral, as in damage. So there are many problems:

    1. The slides don’t belong to you. It’s just your job to put them up there and read the speaker notes
    2. The more-is-more problem: if you’re in a big company, creating slides for other people who you don’t trust in another office, you just stick everything on there so that they don’t start freestyling or actually explaining in a way you can’t control
    3. Everything is assembled from bits. So no one tells a story, they just present various things
    4. Your point: we get a bunch of context and history that no one needs, because someone feels a need to convince us why we should be there – when we’re there already.

    All of which destroy the Kawasaki imperative. Sigh.


  1. 1 Post-PowerPoint stress disorder « talk normal « PPT Converter Trackback on December 2, 2009 at 9:04 am
  2. 2 Presentations to inspire you « talk normal Trackback on December 11, 2009 at 1:47 pm
  3. 3 Presentations To Inspire You | Business Computing World Trackback on December 11, 2009 at 2:17 pm

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