Can DOD really defeat PowerPoint?

Military leaders launch an offensive against slideshow presentations, but is it a winnable war?

IF TORQUEMADA HAD A LAPTOP. The Defense Department has declared war on PowerPoint. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who heads U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the New York Times, “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

To prove his point, McChrystal’s been displaying an indecipherable slide of the United States’ military strategy. “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” he’s said.

Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Joint Forces commander, put it more succinctly: “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”


Related story:

In defense of PowerPoint

Kudos to military leaders for fighting the good fight, but is this a winnable war? It’s not as if the coma-inducing effects of slideshows haven’t been known for years. Back in January 2000, Peter Norvig created his classic send-up of PowerPoint, putting the Gettysburg Address into a stultifying set of bullet points. A 2003 New Yorker cartoon depicts the devil conferring with one of his minions: “I need someone well-versed in the art of torture — do you know PowerPoint?” A few years ago, a military forum posted “The Ballad of the PowerPoint Ranger,” a tribute to the downtrodden grunts who spend their time making slides for the brass. Graphic design guru Edward Tufte, now working for the Obama administration, has railed against PowerPoint for years.

And yet slideshows soldier on, as persistent as zombies in a horror movie. A Google search for “PowerPoint torture,” for example, produces plenty of discussion on the pain of sitting through slideshows — and no shortage of torturous PowerPoint presentations on the very subject of torture.

Is there any escape? Or is there still no better way to make your point at a meeting or conference?

Admittedly, PowerPoint has become snappier over the years, adding moving images and interactive capabilities. But it’s still the business equivalent of somebody’s vacation pictures. And military leaders make a valid point about the dangers of oversimplification. Our guess is that, for now, we’re pretty much stuck with it.

Meanwhile, for the sake of posterity, we’d like to create a sort of rogue’s gallery of bad presentations, a museum of slideshow atrocities. If you have a “good” one, include the link in the comments section below. Future generations will thank you.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

Featured

  • Defense
    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) reveal concept renderings for the Next NGA West (N2W) campus from the design-build team McCarthy HITT winning proposal. The entirety of the campus is anticipated to be operational in 2025.

    How NGA is tackling interoperability challenges

    Mark Munsell, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s CTO, talks about talent shortages and how the agency is working to get more unclassified data.

  • Veterans Affairs
    Veterans Affairs CIO Jim Gfrerer speaks at an Oct. 10 FCW event (Photo credit: Troy K. Schneider)

    VA's pivot to agile

    With 10 months on the job, Veterans Affairs CIO Jim Gfrerer is pushing his organization toward a culture of constant delivery.

Stay Connected

FCW INSIDER

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.