Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 1;   January 2, 2002: Think Before You PowerPoint

Think Before You PowerPoint

by

Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?

Dylan glanced frantically at the clock in the corner of the screen. Thirteen minutes to go. He clicked "Print," vaulted out of his chair and raced to the printer (color of course). When he got there he found Barbara waiting for her job to finish. "How much longer?"

The Thinker PowerPointing"Oh, maybe five minutes…why?"

"Would you mind canceling so I can run my four slides for the board meeting in six minutes?" He actually had 10 minutes, but anything to strengthen his case.

"You owe me," she said, as she hit the orange Cancel button and left.

Dylan made it just in time. Later, Barbara had to re-queue her job, which cost her about five or ten minutes. Not much, but when you add up all the similar little wasted chunks of time, it's easy to see one reason why projects run late.

We all want to make a good impression, but is a good impression really worth bumping someone from a printer or waiting for one to free up? And do we really need beautiful PowerPoint, when a bulleted list on a sheet of paper will do?

I don't know of any cost studies of the frills we use in the everyday presentations that we give to each other. I do have a sense of how much time I've spent on such things personally, and I look back on that as misspent youth.

How do we get to a place where the project is three months late and still it makes sense to spend 20 minutes fiddling with a presentation color scheme?

To control the escalation
of arcane PowerPoint frivolity,
negotiate a Superfluous Artwork
Limitation Treaty (SALT)
Two sets of players contribute — the presenters and the audience. As the audience, we do respond to well-crafted presentation graphics. We tend to confuse form and content, and we telegraph our confusion to presenters. As presenters, we use any technique we can to make the audience more receptive. Both audiences and presenters find themselves in a spiraling escalation of presentation craftsmanship, which leads inevitably to excessive use of printer supplies and project delays.

To control the escalation, negotiate a Superfluous Artwork Limitation Treaty (SALT). Agree that all presentations will be in black-and-white and free of color, animation, video, and audio, unless the content demands it. You'll get these benefits:

  • Usage of expensive consumables drops.
  • Demand for color printers drops.
  • Productivity increases because less time is spent on graphics design.
  • Instead of designing presentations, people begin to think.
  • Instead of presenting at each other, people begin to discuss.
  • Quality of group decisions improves, because of clearer thinking and more effective dialog.

A SALT could have prevented Dylan's interrupting Barbara's print job. How could it have changed your morning today? What can it do for your organization? Go to top Top  Next issue: When Meetings Boil Over  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenRraygCNgvsPtusrDner@ChaczKnDnAqfOPqWauLxoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A captive white rhinoFour Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: Part II
Staff reduction is needed when expenses overtake revenue. But when layoffs are misused, or used too late, they can harm the organization more than they help. Here's Part II of an exploration of four common patterns of mismanagement, and some suggestions for those managers and other employees who recognize the patterns in their own companies.
The bark of the American SycamoreMitigating Outsourcing Risks: Part II
Outsourcing internal processes exposes the organization to a special class of risks that are peculiar to the outsourcing relationship. Here is Part II of a discussion of what some of those risks are and what can we do about them.
A spider plant, chlorophytum comosum.What Enough to Do Is Like
Most of us have had way too much to do for so long that "too much to do" has become the new normal. We've forgotten what "enough to do" feels like. Here are some reminders.
Vortex cores about an F18 fighter jetGuidelines for Sharing "Resources"
Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
Bull moose sparring in Grand Teton National ParkContextual Causes of Conflict: Part I
When destructive conflict erupts, we usually hold responsible only the people directly involved. But the choices of others, and general circumstances, can be the real causes of destructive conflict.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A Great Grey OwlComing June 29: How to Waste Time in Virtual Meetings
Nearly everyone hates meetings, and virtual meetings are at the top of most people's lists. Here's a catalog of some of the worst practices. Available here and by RSS on June 29.
An actual bandwagon in a circus paradeAnd on July 6: Cognitive Biases and Influence: Part I
The techniques of influence include inadvertent — and not-so-inadvertent — uses of cognitive biases. They are one way we lead each other to accept or decide things that rationality cannot support. Available here and by RSS on July 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenHICvRLNeMJEaEaCwner@ChacNdxTVqYPcWqfyvMboCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Managing in Fluid Environments
Most Managing in Fluid Environmentspeople now work in environments that can best be characterized as fluid, because they're subject to continual change. We never know whats coming next. In such environments, managing — teams, projects, groups, departments, or the enterprise — often entails moving from surprise to surprise while somehow staying almost on track. It's a nerve-wracking existence. This program provides numerous tools that help managers who work in fluid environments. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Sudoku Solutions, INK: A Simulation of a Project-Oriented Organization
In thCross-Functional Teams: How Organizations Actually Workis workshop, we simulate a company that solves Sudoku puzzles for its customers. Each puzzle is a project, solved by a project team led by a project manager. Team members hail from different parts of the organization, such as QA or the Department of Threes. Puzzles have different values, and the company must strive to meet revenue goals. The metaphor is uncanny. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
How to Spot a Troubled Project Before the Trouble StartsLearn how to spot troubled projects before they get out of control.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive Package of All Ebooks and Tips BooksSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.