PowerPoint takes a few bullets
Readers take potshots at Microsoft's ubiquitous presentation software
- By John S. Monroe
- Sep 23, 2010
Microsoft PowerPoint is the junk food of office software: Everyone loves to trash it, but they eat it up all the same. Granted, not always by choice.
In late August, PowerPoint made the headlines when Lawrence Sellin, an Army Reserve colonel stationed in Afghanistan, was sent home for writing a column for the UPI that criticized his command’s overreliance on PowerPoint, among other things.
A number of readers had their own war stories to share. Here is a selection of their comments, which have been edited for clarity, length and style.
I'm a retired Air Force colonel. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent in building presentations; doing prebriefs; making minor changes; doing more prebriefs; and after the second round, changing things back to what we had originally. PowerPoint lets you do so much that the focus has changed from the information to how pretty it is. There were days when I longed to go back to VuGraphs and flip charts because no one expected clip art and pictures. If you needed a map, you pointed to the one on the wall.
My personal opinion is that everything started going downhill when charts began taking the place of reports. The charts became too detailed for a good briefing and still were not nearly detailed enough to substitute for a quality formal report. If an organization is willing to commit resources to the development of an idea or concept, then it should be willing to properly document the effort and the associated results.
Driven to Distraction
As a contractor, I spent four years building briefings for a three-star general, working 60-plus hours a week with some colonel or major hanging over my shoulder and watching my every mouse click while I worked on their briefings. These people agonized over the color of a line on a graph or the font of acronyms used in a chart.
The last time I was at a division-level headquarters, I was amazed how focused the chief of operations (CHOPs) was on the Battle Update Briefing (BUB) given to the commander twice daily. Here the CHOPs was supposed to have his finger on the pulse of the battle, and all he was doing was punking slides. My mantra was "Fight the battle not the BUB!"
Missing the Mark
I sat through an Air Force briefing once in which the presenter spent hours and hours getting the PowerPoint format correct. All the colors had to be correct for the different charts and bullets, as explicitly mandated by the commander. After the briefing, the commander was very pleased with the presentation. All the colors and fonts were perfect. The presenter was praised for his good work. Later, I learned from the presenter that he had accidentally shown the previous month's numbers and data. No one else noticed or ever found out.
John S. Monroe is the editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week.