This post is a rant ... and for the lawyers out there Powerpoint is a trademark of Microsoft.
Powerpoint makes us all dumb ... or certainly dumber after seeing a Powerpoint presentation than before.

I am not the first person to comment on this. Edward Tufte's wonderful short essay, The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint, made a very strong case supporting this proposition several years ago, and has become a classic. For a smorgesbord of other supporting opinions check out this CNN article.

The graphical style of Powerpoint can be overcome with a strong spirit and some reasonable design. The cognitive style is, unfortunately, only overcome through strong spirits (whisky?) which bring the rest of the world into the Powerpoint league. Powerpoint's very design reduces the usable space on which to display information (headers, footers, graphic elements), and then requires such large typefaces that there is not much room for any meaning to be communicated from the slide content. From this fundamental problem flows the awful decomposition of complex thought into tiny fragments. Each fragment is presented linearly. Each fragment can appear to be true, and lulls the audience and presenter into a sense of trust that obliterates any ability to hold onto whether the train of thought itself has any validity.

The best slides have enough information to impart knowledge, but are invariably prefaced by the presenter with "I know this is a bit of an eye chart ...".

Before you know it, you have proved that one equals zero (imagine this proof spread out on a Powerpoint). Audience members who don't get the message doubt their own sanity (perhaps I missed a slide?). Presenters triumphantly bring up the final slide "Questions" or "Summary", as if covering information was equivalent to communicating information.

Before deciding on a narrative version of the Gettysburg address, Abraham Lincoln discarded this Powerpoint version. Thank goodness. Unfortunately, NASA did not discard Powerpoint when they should have (before installing). Tufte's essay includes this scathing analysis on NASA's lazy use of Powerpoint during in-mission analyses for the Space Shuttle Columbia, before making all the wrong decisions.

I live with Powerpoint all the time. Mostly I am a consumer of Powerpoint. Every meeting with an entrepreneur and every board meeting invariably comes with a Powerpoint presentation. (Interestingly, the non-profit boards I am on do not use Powerpoint ... I think I will use that distinction as a mechanism by which to choose which non-profits I support.)

The Powerpoint formula is so strong that, despite its weaknesses, showing up without a Powerpoint makes a person look unprepared. It is a brave soul who brings in financials (printed from a spreadsheet program) and some handouts (from a word processing program), and talks about the business. Instead, alas, everything is wrapped in a Powerpoint slide - even financial tables that suffer from information anemia due to the space constraints, and newsclippings reduced in size from the original to fit between header and footer to such an extent the headline is barely legible.

I, too, (Powerpoint Anonymous moment) have sometimes been known to create and present a Powerpoint. Expect me to do be trying to befuddle you, if you are ever on the receiving end.

My web page with references for entrepreneurs includes pointers to suggestions on preparing a Powerpoint presentation for a VC. I would not be doing anyone a service to suggest they stand out from the crowd by presenting without one. But, please oh please, won't someone be brave?

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