Sunday, March 29, 2009

PowerPoint is Evil

Edward Tufte entitled his Sept 2003 article in Wired magazine, "PowerPoint is Evil." Tufte should know. He is professor emeritus of political science, computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale. I think pastors would benefit from reading his article. He begins it with this paragraph:

"Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall."

In case you missed it due to his subtletly, he's referring to PowerPoint. His primary contention is that the program elevates form over content. The dependency upon this form of communication is decreasing our ability to communicate effectively. In schools, children are learning not how to research and communicate content but instead learning how to animate graphics in a slideshow. The typical PowerPoint presentation "disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content."

I think Tufte is at least partly right, which is why I struggled with whether or not to personally implement PowerPoint in my preaching ministry. The difficulty was especially profound for me because I personally don't benefit when others use PowerPoint. In high school, PowerPoint wasn't really big yet, but by the time I was finishing seminary, it had saturated the classroom. Whenever I went to a seminary class and had a professor turn on the projector, I inwardly groaned. But others I know find it extremely useful, which indicates diversity of learning styles, I think.

The pastor, in my opinion, must be careful to preserve the unique genre of the sermon. The form must not overshadow the content. Ultimately, I decided to utilize PowerPoint but very sparingly. The slides are not designed to be the vehicle of communication but merely help people track with where I am in the progress of the message. My goal is that it would be very rare that a person would need to look at the PowerPoint at all to get the full impact of the message.


Mom's Blog said...

I think my power point on Food Handling as I presented it yesterday was insightful, full of important details, and a stellar example of a power point done right. :-)

Self-aggrandizement aside, it does depend on who does it, if it's just for show, or if they were not passionate about communicating with the sight-learner. You can TELL me things all day, and I'll shake my head like I'm understanding, but when you go away, there's nothing if I didn't see it in print. For learners like me, there's Power Point.

The catch, I think, is don't do one if it doesn't enhance the presentation.

Lee said...

Its not the tool it's the user.

James Wood said...

Thanks for the link. Tufte is doing some good work and saying things that need to be said.

In preaching I try to abide by the rule that PowerPoint must be a second and secondary channel of communication. I prepare my sermon separately and independantly and then think of ways that visuals might enhance what I am saying.

But if the sermon can't stand without the visuals, then the sermon is broken. I'd love to hear your thoughts on PowerPoint over at my blog PowerPoint for Preachers.