Guest Posting: Why I am switching from PowerPoint to Prezi (Part 1)

Back in May, I attended the Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference in Detroit and posted a list of 108 top tweets from the event. @dennajones reviewed the list from her home in London and writes about why final tweet in the listing resonated with her:

108. Consider Prezi.com instead of PPT: Animated visuals are dynamic and impressive. As shown in @shelhotz closing keynote.

Why I am switching from PowerPoint to Prezi (Part 1)
by Denna Jones

PowerPoint has taken a hammering in the press in the last few months. The New York Times piece We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint detailed the US Military’s blame game. “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” declared General James N. Mattis. And across the pond, the London Evening Standard article Why PowerPoint Makes Us Stupid gave Yale University information presentation guru Edward Tufte a forum for his emphatic take-no-prisoners declaration, “Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely.”

Sound bites are good copy, and Tufte’s clever tweak of Lord Acton’s famous power dictum is a guaranteed way to get press coverage. But the subset of Lord Acton’s statement – “great men are almost always bad men” – doesn’t translate. If PowerPoint is a great tool – and it is – it’s only a “bad” tool because users fail on two to three fronts. They have limited knowledge of its capabilities, and they have poor ideas or poor presentation skills (or both).

PowerPoint has its defenders. Peter Norvig, Director of Research at Google, sent a letter of support to the New York Times. Norvig made the obvious point. The military “could just as easily have bemoaned bad written reports and summaries, and blamed Microsoft Word.” Another letter writer to the Times reminds us of the paper alternative. “Page after page of mind-numbing, often badly written paragraphs that are no better and certainly less efficient in getting the message across to audiences.” And I remember the tools PowerPoint replaced. Clunky slide carousels with upside down images. Overhead projectors with fumbling hands lining up multiple layers of slippery acetates. And worst of all, flip charts, which seem to be the tool of choice for those with the worst handwriting. All of these tools have equal power to numb the audience if used ineffectively.

PowerPoint stupidity can be explained with perhaps more authority if we look at Bloom’s Taxonomy. A 1950s era educational psychologist, Bloom created an “Educational Objectives” taxonomy to aid learning. His model has been revised and his categories updated, but his basic taxonomy remains relevant. When we learn something, we start at the lowest level of understanding. The more we learn about a given subject, the more we progress in skill and complexity comprehension, and the more we can do with the increased learning. If we persist, we are able eventually to adapt, shift and create our own theories regarding the subject. Sounds simple, but it’s probably fair to say that many PowerPoint users never move beyond the first level or two of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and perhaps never understand why the tool “fails” them.

So, you ask, if I am a defender of PowerPoint, why am I switching to Prezi? Find out next week in Part 2!

Denna Jones is a US-born, London-based writer, designer and consultant who grew up in houses ranging from a Shoji-screen suburban in Hawaii to a mid-twentieth century in California. She works on urban design schemes across England. More details at www.dennajones.com.

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Small world! Great to meet you in May at the NSA conference. I was so pleased to read this guest entry by Denna Jones about Prezi!!!



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