End Powerpoint Abuse

Scott Page's picture

We've all been subject to them – the endless powerpoint presentations that extol the worst aspects of animated text and mind-numbing bullet points. While Edward Tufte has written about the horrors of powerpoint, I see it as just a tool and like any tool it can be used wisely or poorly. After all, David Byrne, the former Talking Heads front man, makes art with powerpoint so it can't be all bad. But one thing struck me at the American Planning Association's (APA) conference two weeks ago: some sessions would have been much better if the powerpoint presentation (or abuse thereof) didn't get in the way. In actuality, some of the best presentations I attended didn't use powerpoint at all.

As a designer, I need the image prop to help me with my presentations so this option of just talking doesn't really work for me. Nor does it for many others it appears. So next year at the APA conference, lets put an end to powerpoint abuse. But how do we know if we're abusing powerpoint? Here are some tips gleaned from this year's more unfortunate examples.

  • If you can't begin the presentation while powerpoint is loading, you might be abusing powerpoint;·
  • If you have to click every time you want to say something, you might be abusing powerpoint;
  • If you use clip-art a lot, you might be abusing powerpoint;
  • If you have to read from the powerpoint slide to make your presentation, you might be abusing powerpoint;
  • If you use a blue background that fades to white, you might be abusing powerpoint;
  • If your slides contain random words that are supposed to be meaningful (i.e. "innovative"), you might be abusing powerpoint; and
  • If the text length on each slide rivals that of a short novel, you might be abusing powerpoint.

Those nit-picky things aside, there were some really good presentations this year. Picking up on Chris Stein's first day summary, here are a few additional thoughts:

-- Nice job by the Latinos and Planning Network in organizing some interesting sessions about the myriad of issues facing the growing Latino population in our cities and suburbs.

-- The Young Planners Network session was also good to hear. I might encourage the Network in their next year of work to shy away from the active recruitment of people to planning (something they discussed) but emphasize instead some of their other observations relating to the environment of the workplace and work-life balance. Some time ago the motto in the business was to make the customer happy. Then after reflection, businesses began to realize that if you instead make sure your employees are happy, the customer will be by extension. I think many would like to know what kinds of changes would make young planners happier professionals and therefore natural ambassadors of our profession. While I am no longer a "young" planner (just missed that 35 year old cut-off by a few years) I think if we believe that planning is a creative profession, the culture of what we do and the environments in which we work should be thought of in the same way.

-- Excellent session on peak oil although I'm curious why a session on such an important topic was scheduled so late in the conference and in a small room. For those interested, more information can be found at www.postcarboncities.net.

-- The ending keynote by Paul Goldberger on the book Learning from Las Vegas and Las Vegas today was excellent. He emphasized that at the time the book was written, the idea that Las Vegas could be appreciated on its own terms was a radical idea. It's still a radical idea. Love or hate Las Vegas, the implications of Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi and Steve Izenour's idea of seeing (and respecting) a city for what it is rather than what it should be still ruffles feathers.

Lastly, for everyone's enjoyment, I bring you the rugs of Las Vegas...

Scott Page is the founder of Interface Studio, a collaborative design office based in Philadelphia.



Need for Classes/Workshops

Powerpoint can be such an effective tool for making a stronger visual presentation. However, I absolutely agree that more often then not it loses the audience. I feel that there needs to be more of an emphasis on the tools of presenting during college, even high school years. When I was in my land arch studios we presented twice a year for each corresponding studio. That is only merely 8 times during a four year program. This is far to little especially for those in the planning/design profession. I can recall so many times looking at a persons work that was exceptional but was presented so poorly that the person lost the audience. High schools, and universities need to put much more emphasis on presenting in order to solve this problem earlier rather than later.

peak oil presentation at APA

Glad you liked our session on peak oil! Yes, it was unfortunate that it was scheduled late in the day Wednesday during a big session on climate change and big cities -- but we were pleased to have a nearly packed room nonetheless.

For those who attended and wanted a copy of our slideshows (presenters were: me, John Kaufmann of Oregon DoE, and Jennifer Brost-Sarnecki of Southern Calif. Assn. of Governments), you can find links at my recent blog post about the conference.

You can also watch a video of John doing a similar presentation for a Connecticut State Legislature caucus here.

Post Carbon Institute

Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.
Book cover of Insider's Guide to Careers in Urban Planning

So you want to be a planner...

Check out our behind the scenes look at 25 careers in the Urban Planning field
Starting at $14.95

Create Your Own Paper Block City

Urban Fold is an all-inclusive kit that allows anyone to build the city of their dreams with a few simple folds.