In Brent Schlenker’s post “20 years of death by PowerPoint“, he talks about all that is wrong with PowerPoint. This has got me wondering, why do we blame the tool for its misuse? Why do we blame the big guy?
It is partly this attitude that led me down the path of using more complicated tools to do the same job that PowerPoint itself would do. In creating training material, I used Illustrator and Frame to create most of the content. PowerPoint was only used to create the final instructor slides, as this is what PowerPoint was indended for. The problem with this solution: no one but me could maintain the content. When anyone wanted a minor change in a graphic, I had to make that change. One of the beauties of a pure PowerPoint solution was that everyone had it. Not everyone was good at using it, but everyone had it!
So that leads to the heart of the problem. It isn’t the tool that is wrong, it is the lack of appreciation for the skill in using the tool appropriately. Too many people do not recognize that developing a decent PowerPoint presentation takes more than just subject matter expert skills. Figuring out presentation flow as well as developing decent look-and-feel are skills that go under appreciated in many places.
That being said, one of the key learnings from my last job was that often even the client (or student) does not appreciate the difference between excellent, good, and mediocre training material. If the client can’t tell the difference between mediocre and good, why waste your time and money producing something good. Just have your subject-matter-experts throw together some PowerPoint slides and run with it. That is the beauty of PowerPoint.
One of the bigger issues with the use of PowerPoint is that corporate templates kill effective presentations. Frequently the header and footer information on corporate templates take away the emphasis on the content. (For a good tips on how to generate good presentations, see Beyond Bullet Points). Too often corporate templates are developed by people that do not understand nuances of the delivery medium. I have seen many a presentation that looks good on the developers computer, but doesn’t display well on the projected screen (I too have made that mistake). Finding the balance between branding and good presentations is a challenge.
One other point that Brent brings up is the use of PowerPoint to generate quick and easy E-Learning. I think this CAN be done well. The issue is not the tool set, it is the people behind the tools. Too many people do not understand the complexity of creating good e-learning. That being said, you still need to ask yourself, does it need to be good? Will mediocre meet the training need? If it will, then go for it.
Of course, when mediocre training meets the need, it leaves me without a job! It is OK to recognize in industry, that mediocre is often all that is required. And there are many people out there that can develop mediocre training and many tools out there to make it fast and easy to do. I just need to find myself the organization that actually NEEDS good, or better yet, excellent training.