In Praise of PowerPoint (sort of)

If all goes well, I’ll post the first eight episodes of the Software Carpentry lecture on the Unix shell later today. That will make this the most productive week I’ve had in the four months I’ve been working on the project full-time. I’ve learned a lot, which I’ll distill into a post some time soon, but right now, I’d like to ask you all a favor.

Please stop pissing on PowerPoint.

Or rather, please stop saying that point-form text is an abomination and everyone should be using zizzy graphics instead. I like an image-laden presentation as much as the next person, and like you, I experience dread and loathing when I see tombstone blocks of text on the screen, but there’s more than a little willful blindness and hipster hypocrisy in saying that everything should be punchy informative pictures instead. Going heavy on the clip art doesn’t magically make your thinking or your message any better: it’s just as easy to make a banal, uninspired presentation with pictures as with text.

In fact, I think you’re more likely to create a bad presentation if you emphasize visuals over text. You’re probably not a trained or talented graphic designer, and the richer the medium, the more potential there is for using it badly. As someone (John Ousterhout?) said about C++, it’s an amplifier: it allows the good to be better, but the bad to be worse, and most of us aren’t as good as we think we are.

So the next time someone tells you to ditch your bullet points because a few carefully-chosen images will convey your ideas more effectively, please say, “Yes, but carefully chosen words will be more effective still, and more accessible to the visually disabled, and there will be less fluff for me to hide behind if the ideas I’m trying to convey are shallow or contradictory.”

Now, back to recording…