PowerPoint — An Internal Threat?

The New York Times did a story, “We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint” about the military’s use or misuse of the presentation tool.  As is common, the tool is blamed for horrible presentations that result.  While I do not agree with the belief that PowerPoint makes you stupid and it is the tool that makes presentations bad, the article does make some valid points.

In claiming that PowerPoint is an internal threat, General McMaster makes a good point.  “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” If only bullet points are used, it is difficult to see the interconnectedness of items, make a complex situation seem overly simple.  With that I totally agree.

He goes on to make the point that PowerPoint hinders the decision making process because it limits critical thinking and discussion.  Here I don’t agree.  It is only when the tool is misused that this occurs.  If people are presuming that once it is on a slide it is fact and not questioning the presenter, then it limits critical thinking, but that is the fault of the people.  And if the presenter does not use PowerPoint to encourage conversation, then that is the fault of the presenter.

I do think that there is a tendency to believe that PowerPoint replaces more elements of a communication interaction then it really does.  If used properly, it promotes communication and understanding by giving an additional visual element to the conversation.  That is it.  It doesn’t replace the conversation or lessen the responsibility of anyone participating.  That is the crux of the issue.

Since the program is not going away any time soon, as the article clearly states is the case in the military, perhaps it is time to teach more people how to use the tool more effectively.