November 21, 2005


There are at least 3 key functions to powerpoint presentations and they are often in conflict.

The main one is to create a good presentation. Something like what Steve Jobs or Lawrence Lessig do so effortlessly. The problem is they give good presentation anyway, the powerpoint is just there to drive home the argument and provide a visual countepoint for the speaker. Making a Jobsian powerpoint file won't make you a good presenter and if fact if you suck having some of his minimalist slides behind you might hurt you.

The second main function of powerpoint is to create a document that stands on its own. Something people can look at as reference and remember what the presentation was about. These types of presentations sometimes can help poor presenters, and sometimes can provide an awful crutch. If you can't speak in public, having an info rich slide can take the attention and pressure off you a bit, for better or for worse.

The third function of powerpoint, perhaps the key to its success, is that its much better at helping the speaker organize their talk then it is at generating good slideshows. Often what you see on screen are just glorified notecards, a crib sheet projected ten feet high for the world to see. This is a big reason why people like to use powerpoint so much, it forces them to structure and plan the talk. Its also a big reason why the presentations it generates are often such crap.

The tensions between these three functions could be reduced significantly or perhaps eliminated by developing a two faced presentation program. A program that defaults to two slides at one time, one meant for the presenter and another meant for the audience. A note screen and an emphasis screen. In a live context perhaps it be best if the note screen where not a screen at all, but instead get printed out onto note cards. The process of organizing the presentation and the actual presentation itself are no longer one and the same but instead two separate tasks. It means more work, if your goal is just to crap out a mediocre powerpoint, but if you want to make a good one it means less. The real challenge of the software would be effectively managing the relationship between the notes and the slides themselves. Can a software successfully extract the key points of the notes and automate the slide making process? A difficult to unlikely task, making good slides is still a human task. Combining the notes and the slides into on take away document is perhaps slightly easier to automate, but a step, not an answer.

Posted by Abe at November 21, 2005 10:52 AM


Here's an interesting way to think about using PowerPoint:

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