Thursday, November 6, 2008

The growing electronic menace

The idea behind power point presentations is to sit through 100 slides with our eyes glazed over, and then to do what all military organizations hope for ... to surrender to an overwhelming mass. – Richard Danzig, Navy Secretary

Corporate productivity was reasonably high till Microsoft invented Powerpoint. Ever since, it has been on a steady decline. It has reached a stage that when an employee wants to go on a vacation he has to make a presentation to his boss, which includes slides for title, need/occassion, reason for attendance, transition/backup, expected return, contact numbers at destination, thank you. What do you call it when you generate a 10 megabyte presentation that strains the bandwidth of the internet and clogs mailboxes in 2 hours, which could be communicated in a 2 minute conversation? Ah yes, technological advancement.

Before there were presentations, there were conversations, which were a little like presentations but people used fewer bullet points, no colours and charts and no one had to dim the lights. Powerpoint presentation is a triumph of process over product. It is more deadly than computer virus and is spreading very fast across the world in darkened rooms with overhead projectors. The genius of it is that it was designed for any idiot to use. You know, I learned it in a few hours! And by the way, these days, you can't ‘speak’ to senior management without having a PowerPoint presentation. Ever since the advent of Powerpoint, more bad plans with good slides have been approved over good plans with no slides.

Powerpoint has become a great tool for camouflaging lack of knowledge. No points for guessing why I love it. My knowledge levels on subjects can be classified as expert, moderate, low and Powerpoint-deep, in decreasing order of knowledge. Powerpoint can give an illusion of coherence and content to any topic which does not have it. And if you can add colour, graphs and graphics, you have a killer in your hands. You can make any point, otherwise irrelevant and illogical, relevant and logical, if made to dance in colour on a Powerpoint presentation.

Walking into a meeting without a PowerPoint presentation is like walking in without clothes. Earlier people used to kill meetings; these days Powerpoints do it more successfully. It has become the most effective sleeping pill, particularly when administered on a group of people. Powerpoint presentations too often resemble a school play - very loud, very slow, and very simple. It is only a matter of time before it will be used for anesthesia in hospitals and for torture in prisons.

But despite the complaints about Powerpoints, people don’t hesitate to inflict this upon others. Anybody who gets a powerpoint with good graphics immediately forwards it to all contacts in his address book, even before going through it fully. A classic case of ‘do unto others what you don’t want them to do to you’.

It is said that a good presentation should be like a woman's skirt: short enough to arouse interest but long enough to cover the essentials. However, I believe that the way to make a great presentation is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and then having the two as close together as possible. I feel that if one cannot explain things in two to three slides, then it is highly likely that it is bullshit. I don’t think I need to analyse and present 100 possible courses of action, when I am only going to recommend one or two.

The last presentation I made was to update the management about the last update I gave them on the meeting we had, to discuss what to cover in the upcoming organizational event, where we would discuss the future priorities. I hope you understand how easy it was for me to make the presentation when the topic was so simple!

The most amusing presentation I ever made was in one of my previous organizations where the appraisal was supposed to be accompanied by a presentation. Imagine the possibilities (of lies!) and the length of the presentations. When my boss asked me to add firepower to my presentation, I added photos of guns and bombs in the presentation and even attached a photo of a nuclear explosion. I am sure I don’t have to tell you that I was promoted that year.

Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems once famously quoted, "We had 12.9 gigabytes of (Microsoft) PowerPoint slides on our network. And I thought, 'What a huge waste of corporate productivity.' So we banned it. And we've had three unbelievable record-breaking fiscal quarters since we banned PowerPoint. Now, I would argue that every company in the world, if they would just ban PowerPoint, would see their earnings skyrocket. Employees would stand around going, 'What do I do? Guess I've got to go to work.'"

If power corrupts, then Powerpoint corrupts absolutely!


Usha Pisharody said...

This is a gem through and through... :) Espcially the quote at the end! A killer, Salil , a killer!!

Still, I'm fascinated by PP and I like to use it! But then since I am not in the corporate world, there is reason to believe that PP can be fun!! The point is, a powerful one at that, the it works really well, in a classroom.. :)

But yes, as you say, Powerpoint Presentations are the key to being acknowledged as visible; and now, even in the Services! Heck! Everywhere, except where it still makes a difference [I mean, here, in India :)].. and that of course, is the place where young and fertile minds gather, a school!

I loved this one too! Your funny bones are something else :) :)

Devika Jyothi said...

There you are! enjoyed...

i just went bust last week with a few 'power-point' corruptions...
but since power here was not corrupted and 'system' resumed after a bit of 'hanging' ..things could be sorted out...


PS: I got you message on Flickr resumption..i was looking for a picture for my latest at CKW -- A Tunnel with light at end -- got one from elsewhere and is come for a view..and also my *text*.. :-)

Chriz said...

wow.. you guys banned powerpoint.. i cant speak continuosly for five minutes with out any slides... tahts a great idea

Bhai with Chai said...

ammmmazingg and it so came at just the right time!
why don't you, like, start a campaign and the first college you visit should be mine.. please!
these morons try to force us into making PPTs at the drop of a hat for totally nonsense stuff!

I've got a project presentation, seminar and 3 individual subject presentations coming up.. all powerpoints! :/

'corrupted absolutely' !

Rakesh Vanamali said...

Superb! Here is someone who echoes my thought and
deep contempt for PP! For sometime now, even the very
basics that can be communicated verbally / via email
are forcibly stuffed up many a poor gullet etched on
stupid & unncessary slides!

It is often part of the 'goal sheet' constantly churn
out ppts.....despite their going into the trash can
minutes after they are received!

And where the message needs to be 1 + 1 = 2, these
sickos usually convey "my neighbour's dog's cat's son's
uncle's father who stays 510 miles from east coast
had a problem with a fly that sat on a passerby's head"

Power corrupts, powerpoints corrupt absolutely!

Very true! Marvelous post SAL RAV!!!!!

Anonymous said...

death by powerpoint eh?
The last line took the cake!

Roopa said...

Great post Salil. And that quote at the end takes the prize. But I have a bone to pick with you. I am not a corporate person myself. I think I have made less than half a dozen presentations my whole life. But I do think they convey thoughts/ideas/facts much more precisely and concisely. My mails ramble on and my online con calls are even lengthier, so powerpoint does help -- at least a bit. But of course, I do agree you can have too much of it. Thankfully, I don't :). Ok, I won't ramble on further!

sansmerci said...

good one as usual.. i feel ppts were invented by someone who was researchin for a way to sleep without the lites on in meetings..

Monika said...

lol!!!! how true.... great tool greatly misused is all i can say

Salil said...

Thank you for your kind words and as usual you are the first commentor. Appreciate it.
No doubt, Powerpoint is very fascinating and enticing; but so are all evil things :-)
And regarding my funny bone, I hope people whom I have praised on my blogs (like bankers, Powerpoint expers, golfers, Maveli, etc) don’t break it! :-)

Glad you liked it.
Good you recovered your Powerpoints, else I guess you would have become powerless.

Thanks for passing by.
We did not ban Powerpoint. But there are many organizations that have done so, like Sun Microsystems whom I have quoted in the blog.

Welcome back to my blog.
Every communication these days are Powerpoint slides. And I have found 80% of the content to be either just fillers or plain useless. And the sad part is that in the disguise of Powerpoint slides, they don’t seem to be so out of place.

Thanks for reciprocating my sentiments.
I feel that Powerpoint presentations have really made a mockery of the saying ‘brevity is the soul of essence’.

Salil said...

Thank you for dropping by.
Yes, it is absolute boredom and death by Powerpoint these days. I have started asking people who invite me for meetings if they could explain verbally the content of the presentation. And their shocked reaction makes me sympathise and sit through the presentations.

Thank you.
I feel the ability to keep things to point and short is a skill and not a result of usage of Powerpoing. My guess is that you could have conveyed the same precise and concise thoughts/ideas/facts in Word or Excel too with the same or lesser effort. Powerpoint is just another tool.

I could not agree more. And the inventor would definitely have been killed by the managers who had to spent hours preparing presentations for senior management.

Exactly. Powerpoint is a great tool; but just that.

Obscure Optimist said...

You point indeed, is powerful... Sure there is a waste of energy, time and patience when you elaborate a small thing into a lengthy presentation. I love to give the presentations... but sitting through them is indeed boring. I can;t spare others the pain i go through. So i guess it has been mutual...
Great post.. Kudos!!

Swarna said...

Yet to read about it in the news - or was it hushed up - weren't you sued by MS earlier today?

Ganges said...

Nice post...The last line was too good :)

Gazal said...

we often teach kids at school to make PPT' wondering if i can tell them the below...

//It is said that a good presentation should be like a woman's skirt: short enough to arouse interest but long enough to cover the essentials.//

Salil said...

Nice to see you back.
Yes, as I mentioned that is a classic case of ‘do unto others what you DON’T want them to do to you’! :-)

Grrr.. (seething with anger to know that the news has been leaked) I had told Bill and Steve that the settlement had to be a secret!

Nice comment… The last line was too good :)

Powerpoint in schools??!! Oh no, where is this world of ours going to?
Well, if you are teaching them (things that will decrease their productivity) Powerpoint, you may as well tell them the secret of a good presentation – keep it short and sweet!

Swarna said...

More ammo for you - PP seems to be a great hobby I must say for 10-year-olds. Just noticed my sonny folder of PP slides/shows is 25 MB thus far - topics range from Gandhiji to aircraft and pets.
And I will not be going the Sun Micro way! :)

Anonymous said...

Lol..I loved the post and can relate a lot to it..Management classes are loaded with tons of powerpoints..As you said,ppts are a useful means to hide our ignorance..Just have some main points in bulleted format and keep ranting explanation/crap in between the points...lool...I am so obsessed with using animation effects and like bu sadly,my subject doesn't call for it,well if we use funny effects,we get negative creativity is all in godown now ;)

Directionless Wanderer said...

hey stumbled across your blog from GB's blog .... And I found it a nice and humorous read! The post in particular was funny and amusing and brought out the pointlessness of certain office etiquettes including the over-use of electronic indirect communication, when direct conversational means would work much better!

I liked your blog and have bookmarked it. Count me in as a regular visitor!

Devika Jyothi said...

Hi Salil!

i saw the cartoon only today...:-)
you drew it?

anyway, nice one there - a "Dali"touch (did i see his cartoon, anytime?)

so unsure of all that i saw, waht to do? :-)


you didn't come to see the picture of tunnel i chose from Flickr, leave my text, yaar :-)

Govind said...

salil,Right on the head as usual. Have you noticed that Power Point is neither power nor to the point. Most presentations are made to someone on top which means you are powerless and always pointless meandering.

Salil said...

Somebody once argued with me that Powerpoint helps children in their thought process and thinking to the point. My take is very simple – if you have the ability to think properly, then you don’t need Powerpoint, and if you don’t, even Powerpoint doesn’t help. She also said it helps creativity – and my argument remained the same though I asked her if she encouraged her children to use Paint or Movie Maker, to which her answer was negative.
But coming back to your comment, I would say that it is fine, as long as it is creative and educative.

Thank you.
Yeah, Powerpoint and MBA seems to be synonyms these days. People waste more time on fonts, colour combinations, graphics, adding music, etc than on content, which is my biggest grievance against Powerpoint.

Welcome (rolling the red carpet!)… I couldn’t be more privileged than to have somebody trip over from GB’s blog. Thank you for your kind comments and hope to see you around.
My grouse is precisely what you mentioned, using presentations where normal direct communications works!

The comic strip is from the famous Dilbert series of Scott Adams. I picked it from google images and am surprised that he is not carrying the copyright label in the strip.
Been there, read that. Good pic.

Thanks buddy.
That is a nice way to put it, it is neither power nor to the point in corporate circles, though it is ‘supposed’ to have been the other way round.

Keshi said...

PPts r for ppl like me...ppl who wanna sleep in the dark during Meetings lol! I simply hate Meetings.


Anonymous said...

You have a very interesting blog dude but i am as usual arrived late here too ;)

Roopa said...

I am blogrolling you Salil...hope you have no objections to that :)

Sashu... said...

Whoa!! absolutely delightful diz write! de subtle humour juz shines thru! n yea PP z de IN thing, i gather :) n what a dissection at that ;) nicey nice!!!

rantravereflect/ jane said...

"If power corrupts, then Powerpoint corrupts absolutely!



n yeahhh, ya just spoe what's on my mind, albeit in a way funnier tone taht rocked me off my chair :D

at it's great SUN MICROSYSTEMS DID JSUT THAT-- hoooooowwww very useful, in terms of productivity boost..

"The genius of it is that it was designed for any idiot to use. You know, I learned it in a few hours!"
Self-mockery at its friggyn best-- i love ya humor palate :)

"The most amusing presentation I ever made was in one of my previous organizations where the appraisal was supposed to be accompanied by a presentation. Imagine the possibilities (of lies!) and the length of the presentations. When my boss asked me to add firepower to my presentation, I added photos of guns and bombs in the presentation and even attached a photo of a nuclear explosion. I am sure I don’t have to tell you that I was promoted that year."
i lovedddddd reading that para the most--> geeee FIREPOWER AND GUNS N BOMBS N NUCLEAR EXPLOSION--> YA BLEW MY TOP WITH TAHT :)
heeeee, n the icing on the explosive cake was 'the PROMOTION'

"Anybody who gets a powerpoint with good graphics immediately forwards it to all contacts in his address book"
fuckkkk my know-it-all- (know nothing at all)boss who did that all the time..
hated him with my sleepn n guts...

loveddddd thsi post..,,
ya're amamzing :D

rantravereflect/ jane said...

to a guy whose face is all lit up durin a PPT, what he's really amusing himself with in his dreamy head is a
''Pudding-head PrickTeaser..''

To a guy like you, it's all stinking piddle and useless shit anyways, so PPT would read a..
"Pee n Poo Tirade.."

Anonymous said...

Alas, no use for PowerPoint in my line of work! And anyways with the plain and simple 'power' (as in that vested in a Hitler Mom) doing the absolute corrupting so well who needs PowerPoint?!! :P

"It is only a matter of time before it will be used for anesthesia in hospitals and for torture in prisons." Haha. Maybe the next time I have to have a tooth pulled out, a PowerPoint presentation by the dentist would do the trick!

Salil said...

He he.. don’t even get me going about meetings and how not-to-the-point they can be.
Ronald Raegan once remarked: “I have left orders to be awakened at any time in case of national emergency, even if I'm in a cabinet meeting”

Since I don’t believe in ‘better never than late’ you are most welcome!
Reminds me of the joke :
Tom had this problem of getting up late in the morning and was always late for work. His boss was mad at him and threatened to fire him if he didn't do something about it. So Tom went to his doctor who gave him a pill and told him to take it before he went to bed. Tom slept well and in fact beat the alarm in the morning by almost two hours. He had a leisurely breakfast and drove cheerfully to work.
"Boss", he said, " The pill actually worked!"
"That's all fine" said the boss, " But where were you yesterday?"

My pleasure, lady.
But I would mind if nobody reaches here via your blog :-)

tnk u 4 ur knd wrds. s, PP z de IN thing!!
hpe 2 c u arnd!

Wow, that is one hell of a rocking comment!
Paying you to leave a nice comment did not go waste :-)
And please don’t use those PPT expansions anywhere else :-)

Ah, there you are mistaken. I had read an article some 3-4 years back about a mom making a presentation to her daughters, who were not cleaning their room inspite of repeated requests and threats and who were into Powerpoint big time, about the need and the reward of cleaning their rooms. Also there are presentations floating around about how to do household chores better, how a homekeeper can be better organized, etc. But then, let me ask the proverbial question, “Do you work?” :-)

ramesh sanijeeth sadasivam said...

I don't think there is anything wrong with the power point. Just that those who use it don't make a powerful point.

Rakesh Vanamali said...

You have been tagged!



Unknown said...

Gr8 piece of blog...keep going bro...

Prasanthi Neeladaran said...

Nice one Salil! So true abt the PP mania.....I dont work for apple but I sure can tell that Steve Job's iphone presentation was one of the best I've sat through....
Nways, Your closing sure was the home run for me:)
Keep blogging!

Ace of Spades said...

as soon as i see someone plugging in their laptop at a meeting, i have this urgent, mad, overwhelming desire to 'powerpoint' a certain finger of mine at them. but then ... alas!

Usha Pisharody said...

Got a little something for you, if you will have it :) on the Muthashi Katha space, that new space called Overdrive :) In your time, when inclination permits.. :)

Hope you're having a great Sunday too!

Nandalal said...

PPT... I hate them dude... I often sleep during those boring 'Pityingly Pathetic Trauma's'..
u said right.. people don't hesitate to inflict the 'damage' on others using those 'things'!

Santosh PM said...

My god! This is awesome. Just fabulous. I think I should call it "magnum opus" or something like that.

Salil said...

I agree, there is nothing wrong with Power Point per se. The whole problem is on the way it is used. Forget making a powerful point, my sense is that in most cases there is hardly any point made.

Will check it out.

Thanks bro.
The one suggested by you is still in the works.

Nice to have you hear and thank you for your kind comments.

So true. Wish we could just ‘powerpoint’ our finger and make people disappear!

Was a little tied up with things. Will check it out.

Thanks for dropping by.
Making people sleep through Powerpoint presentations is actually a triumph of the product.

Glad to have you here.
Keep coming back for more.

Anonymous said...

i'm gonna make my own blog

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