September 9, 2012

"Jeff Bezos And The End of PowerPoint As We Know It."

"Bezos told the story behind the new products in images and text. I’ve discussed this technique before in more detail but in short, it’s called Picture Superiority."
It simply means that the brain processes information more effectively when the information is presented in pictures and words instead of words alone. Neuroscientists have also found that when a slide (or advertisement) contains pictures and words, it’s best to have the picture on the left side of the page or slide and words on the right. This is exactly what Bezos did for a majority of his slides....

In no way am I advocating that you ditch PowerPoint. I am recommending that you ditch PowerPoint as we know it — dull, wordy, and overloaded with bullet points. Image-rich presentations work effectively because pictures appeal to the right hemisphere of the brain—the emotional side. You can have great ideas backed up by data and logic, but if you don’t connect with people emotionally, it doesn’t matter.
I'm trying to picture — yes, picture — doing that in a law school class. I've never used PowerPoint or projected any kind of slide in any presentation I've ever done, but I do write words on the black/white board pretty often. These are never wordy, because when you write as you speak, you aren't going to take the time to write much. But I'm intrigued by the idea of having pictures and the notion that it would improve understanding somehow if the profuse spoken words and minimal written words were reinforced with pictures.

But what could they be? I waste a couple minutes dreaming of a website put together by law professors with useful images for law school classes, and then I realize that all you have to do is a Google image search on the name of a case. I tried "Brown v. Board of Education" and got a fabulous array of images — classrooms of children, the winning lawyers, newspaper frontpages, a "separate-but-equal" drinking fountain, police-dog ugliness.

And now I worry that pictures are too powerful to be used in a situation that isn't supposed to be about manipulative persuasion.

***

And in case you'd like to buy that product Jeff Bezos was promoting: Here's the new Kindle Fire. And here's the fancier one.

46 comments:

rhhardin said...

I suppose grease pencil vu-graphs are out then.

edutcher said...

Guy Kawasaki of Apple has been pushing a similar idea for a long time.

He calls it the 10-20-30 Rule.

Matthew Sablan said...

Out: Power Point

In: LOL Cats

Aridog said...

I've never used PowerPoint ... in any presentation I've ever done...

By that statement alone you've proven yourself a classy professor.

I'm retired military and "Fed" ... the instant I see one of those ubiquitous blue screens with "bullets" I develop a severe rash and begin to twitch...then I fall sound asleep.

Bruce Hayden said...

It is about time, though I am not sure what this next gen will look like.

I did find out last week that the VA Bar won't accept PowerPoint presentations for CLE credit. Ditto for outlines, but the importance here is that PowerPoint presentations are so ubiquitous these days that they have to call them out specifically.

sydney said...

He is definitely correct about that. I enjoy lectures much more, and pay much more attention, when the lecturer incorporates images. Even just an image of a molecule or a biochemical pathway gives it more oomph. When it is all words, there is a temptation to tune out, especially if those same words are sitting in front of you in a handout.

Bezos isn't the first to recognize this, of course. Edward Tufte has written a series of books about it. (Sorry, I don't know how to turn that into one of your Amazon Links)

America's Politico said...

I want to buy the PaperWhite from this blog. BUT, me have a question. The Kindle 3G I own has many folders and sample chapters.

WHEN you buy a new Kindle, do all your folders - INCLUDING Sample chapters of books - get downloaded. I would absolutely hate to download sample chapters from over 100 books.

My Kindle 3G was purchased a year ago.

THOUGHTS via Experience?

America's Politico said...

I want to buy the PaperWhite from this blog. BUT, me have a question. The Kindle 3G I own has many folders and sample chapters.

WHEN you buy a new Kindle, do all your folders - INCLUDING Sample chapters of books - get downloaded. I would absolutely hate to download sample chapters from over 100 books.

My Kindle 3G was purchased a year ago.

THOUGHTS via Experience?

miss j said...

Wow. You hadn't heard this before? I heard about this notion of the divided page, with pictures on the left, in my HS English class 30 years ago. We were taught to divide a line down the page 1/3 of the way over and use that left column for images and concept maps while using the rest of the page for more traditional note-taking. I've done that ever since and have done it in countless lectures as a professor.

Edward Tufte is the one who thoroughly debunked the use of powerpoint over this issue... at least 10 years ago.

Freeman Hunt said...

Everybody wants to be Crack Emcee.

Kirk Parker said...

Freeman -- LOL!!!!

Sheridan said...

In my business unit, PowerPoint presentations were called "decks". Almost every business decision required the creation of a deck. If you appeared before the unit executive with a typed report and no deck, you got thrown out of his office. If you then returned to him with a deck (a few bullet points, couple of simple graphs and a cartoon-like picture of a couple of generic employees sitting around a small table) you got a chance to make your case.


But woe to you if there were too many pages in the deck for the executive to review. His time was apparently very precious and it could not be wasted on too much reading/thinking.

The great strength of PowerPoint for me was the ability of a briefer to include in his presentation charts, tables and graphs that clearly highlighted complex data. The accompanying bullet points provided reinforcement of the data and recommended alternative solutions to problems. But the software was useless if the presenter had no clue about the problem, the data (and what that information meant) or how to construct the deck so that even the simpleton executive could "think" and try and decide.

Some things cannot be presented in pictures to appeal to a decision-makers "emotional side". For example, even in a now-typical, dumbed-down PowerPoint deck, presenting financial data is tricky. And when some of your decision-makers, seemingly suffering from a business version of ADHD can only tolerate a 3-page deck, you can't afford to waste space on more pictures.

Linda Seebach said...

I attended one of Tufte's day-long presentations on conveying information through graphics. Yes, he demolishes PowerPoint (the kind that presents your outline as you talk about it, anyway), but the day is mostly about effective graphics -- example, how the people who decided whether to launch Challenger should have seen the information about O-ring deterioration plotted against temperature at launch.

But the main thing he demonstrates is how effective a truly great *lecture* is, amplified by brilliantly chosen visuals and props. He spoke for six hours (with a lunch break), in a hotel ballroom, and had 300 people mesmerized the whole time.

If you ever get a chance to attend, give yourself a treat and GO!

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

I'm intrigued by the idea of having pictures and the notion that it would improve understanding somehow if the profuse spoken words and minimal written words were reinforced with pictures.

The Gospel According To John Ford:

The pictures tell the story, the words are only there to make the pictures make more sense.

Linda Seebach said...

I attended one of Tufte's day-long presentations on conveying information through graphics. Yes, he demolishes PowerPoint (the kind that presents your outline as you talk about it, anyway), but the day is mostly about effective graphics -- example, how the people who decided whether to launch Challenger should have seen the information about O-ring deterioration plotted against temperature at launch.

But the main thing he demonstrates is how effective a truly great *lecture* is, amplified by brilliantly chosen visuals and props. He spoke for six hours (with a lunch break), in a hotel ballroom, and had 300 people mesmerized the whole time.

If you ever get a chance to attend, give yourself a treat and GO!

Sheridan said...

American success in WWII via pictures (graphic novel style):

Picture 1 = Devastation at Pearl Harbor.

Picture 2 = FDR holding Fala, with his cigarrette holder at a jaunty angle.

Picture 3 = Separate scenes of landing craft at Normandy and airplanes over aircraft carrier.

Picture 4 = Separate scenes of Swastika being blown-up over reichstag and McArthur standing next to tiny, defeated Hirohito.

Oops! One too many pictures!

PeterK said...

"But I'm intrigued by the idea of having pictures and the notion that it would improve understanding somehow if the profuse spoken words and minimal written words were reinforced with pictures. "

I regularly give presentations on topics that are more easily understood by audience when I use relevant imagery. The key is to use a minimal amount of text on the slide along with a relevant image. in some cases no text is needed as you talk about the image being shown. putting a load of words on a slide is insulting to the audience as they can read the text. they want insight.

sydney said...

I have got Nazis on the brain today, having fallen asleep reading about Nazi health insurance. But, I think that is why they were so effective in their propaganda. They were adept at using the new media of moving pictures. Everyone knows about Leni Riefenstahl and her work, but they also had tremendous success selling "euthanasia" to the masses with a movie called I Accuse.

Patrick said...

And now I worry that pictures are too powerful to be used in a situation that isn't supposed to be about manipulative persuasion.

Actually, this seems to be what lawyers and politicians are looking for.

Patrick said...

Law professors, maybe not.

Aridog said...

@Sheridan ... I believe you are correct in the use of "decks" to convey concepts, or at least introduce them. PowerPoint is basically a useful tool, can include pictures in almost any arrangement, and suffers mostly because it is abused and used to replace thoughtful discussion or technical idea conveyance.

Being ex-military and Fed, I also know, in my experience, that the large majority of "executives" who demand simplistic "decks" do so because they really don't know anything about the functions they oversee. They want short "bullets" because they can't handle anything more.

Powerpoint used as a short cut for intellectual consideration has a purpose, absolutely: It is a "persuasion" tool and thus if you fail to persuade a senior executive, that is your fault...also, if you do do persuade and the concept fails or is false, you are again to blame.

I suspect that "persuade" fail-safe feature is still taught in Command & General Staff courses DoD wide.

Sheridan said...

I understand that effective PowerPoint presentations can make a LECTURE more effective. My concern is that important decisions that require true understanding of issues and thoughtful, measured responses not be based on simplistic presentations that appeal to emotions. And yet, business leaders and others may be led down the "stupid path" because it saves time! Whaaat? Learn to read faster, hire smarter leaders!

Sheridan said...

Aridog - I'm with you man!! I and many of my peers too often failed to "persuade" and the fault was ours. No matter the executives were dumber than rocks and more intent on getting promoted than advancing the interests of our customers, employees and shareholders.

Beldar said...

Prof. Althouse, are most of your classes in the traditional Socratic method style, or are some or all of them lectures?

Aridog said...

Althouse said......now I worry that pictures are too powerful to be used in a situation that isn't supposed to be about manipulative persuasion.

That is a good point. I agree that back up slides, when used, should not be dominant. If they are they are wrong. They are insults to the intelligence of the audience. The whole of an argument should never be reduced to bullets on slides. Never.

However, in Tufte's world, the images are not for manipulation, but to present information. In that function, whether on screen, or merely in hand outs, Powerpoint, iGrafx/Micrographix, Primavera, or other project management software, can serve well...if not abused and made persuasive instead of informative. And example would be a flow chart, or a project projection chart (covering resources, funding, sources, deployment, etc.)can be presented with a summary presentation that is persuasive.

A persuasive presentation, either spoken or written can follow what is called a "staff study format" ... a mostly military format, so that is what I am familiar with generally. You can Google it to find out more about it. I am sure there are other protocol formats along the same line.

The main point is the persuasion should be separate from the visuals, and derivative of the visuals. The visuals should not over-simplify and tend to persuade. Visuals should be utilized to compress quantitative and qualitative information in a graphic format. For example: the process for capitalization of equipment can take hundreds or thousands of pages of regulations to define...but it can be easily reduced clearly to one 8.5x11 sheet of paper or graphic screen using a flow chart such as available in iGrafx. It is compressed information that retains validity.

Maguro said...

Eh, most people who work with Powerpoint a lot already know that graphics are effective and you shouldn't overload your slides with too many bullet points. This is well known, even in retrograde organizations like the DoD.

One of the reasons that you continue to see text-heavy Powerpoint decks is that a lot of briefers don't have enough knowledge of the subject to effectively give a graphics-heavy presentation. Much easier to just stand there and read bullets off a slide.

Dante said...

Here is the best example of a visual presentation I've seen, from TED. It's twenty minutes long or so. If you get a few minutes into it, you will be mesmerized. The tool used for this is no longer available, as google bought it, I understand.

TED graphical presentation

Dante said...

Link appears not to work. Try this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVimVzgtD6w

Aridog said...

Maguro said...

One of the reasons that you continue to see text-heavy Powerpoint decks is that a lot of briefers don't have enough knowledge of the subject to effectively give a graphics-heavy presentation...

Very good point...and a valid one. Even (especially?) in the "retrograde" DoD :-))

Part of the reason for this phenomena is that the "decks" are prepared by functional people, who know what they're about, on demand by senior executives, who insist on a format, and who must in turn brief higher executives. Usually monthly, but can be more frequent. Think the cliché': The blind leading the blind.

Very seldom is the function staff who puts together presentations ever the same ones who "brief" senior executive to team. The commanded "goal" for the functional people is to make their boss look good in his presentation of your work.

The effect is to filter and over-simplify information so much in the upward passage that by the time it is acted upon it is pointless, useless, or both. A good example is the revelations in the 9/11 investigation about who knew what, when, who didn't tell whom, and otherwise failed to take action....but passed the info up a chain that lead to no where.

Jack Wayne said...

So Jeff Bezos is advocating putting 13% of the population (lefties) at an educational disadvantage. Sounds right to me. It's in line with political lefties desire to divide the culture in as many ways as they can.

Paddy O said...

So, the end of PowerPoint as we know it is to use PowerPoint to display more pictures and less text?

I was expecting something a bit more actually, you know, end of PowerPoint.

As I put together slideshows for my class this semester, though, I am going to incorporate the suggestions.

Picture on Left. Short text on right.

I'm part of the revolution!

Joan said...

Rosetta Stone's language software works entirely on the basis of the power of images to convey tremendous amounts of information.

PowerPoint is probably one of the most abused business tools in history. I know why people don't bother to imbed images, it's time consuming to find and place them (mostly the finding, but placing can be fiddly.) Nevertheless, when I know I'm going to be having a substitute, I'll put the day's lectures into a PowerPoint if I have the time: I can pack in images, videos, and text that supplement the textbook and will help the students understand the topics.

wyo sis said...

I used to get a lot of pressure to use PowerPoint, but as an elementary school librarian I only used it to show illustrations or supplemental pictures because it is so much nicer to have the pictures large enough for everyone to see. Now we use Active boards and there is much more content out there.
I love the book preview clips Amazon has. Very nice for book talks.

Unknown said...

What about those of us with add that rely on powerpoint bullets as memory crutches?

Unknown said...

What about those of us with add that rely on powerpoint bullets as memory crutches?

MadisonMan said...

Blah blah blah.

Just another yahoo saying that too much text on PowerPoint slides is a bad idea.

Next, Jeff Bezos tells us that Apple Stock is overpriced.

FleetUSA said...

I wouldn't think pictures would work well in law school because good profs spend their time bringing out both sides of an issue and pictures cannot be that ambiguous.

Imagine in tort law, you show the results of the tort but that doesn't say what or who contributed to the tort.

ken in sc said...

When I was teaching, I did use Corel Presentations and PowerPoint, but I used animation, music and lots of graphics and pictures, not just boring bullet points. I was teaching 6th and 7th graders—later 9th and 10th graders—they don't do boring very well. I had not heard about dividing up the screen left and right, or I would have used it. I used PowerPoint to create a test review that looked like a TV game show, like 'Who wants to be a Millionaire' .

ken in sc said...

Oh, I had one that worked like like 'Jeopardy' too, but I did not create it. I borrowed it from someone else.

swierczekml said...

For those who think that Tufte has the definitive word regarding the presentation of shuttle o-ring deterioration versus temperature at launch data, you might want to consider the late great Roger Boisjoly’s rejoinder here:

http://people.rit.edu/wlrgsh/FINRobison.pdf

caplight45 said...

Freeman Hunt said...
"Everybody wants to be Crack Emcee"

Yes. Me too!

I am not a bum.

I’m a Jerk.

I once had wealth...

...power...

...and links from Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

Now I only have two things...

...my friends at Althouse

...and...

...my cult-destroying blog.

My story?

Okay.

It was never easy for me.

I was born a poor black child.

I remember the days...

...sitting on the porch with my family...

...singing and dancing...

...down in Mississippi.

Alex said...

This thread reeks of such ignorance. Of course you can produce beautiful Powerpoint decks composed of charts & graphs. Heck you can embed video if you want, have animations. Whatever cool things, they are all there. I've noticed a general anti-Microsoft vibe around here.

Alex said...

Oh and another thing this article does not Jeff Bezos EVER saying anything negative about Powerpoint, he's just trying to gin up controversy where there is none.

Aridog said...

Alex .... I've noticed a general anti-Microsoft vibe around here.

Not from me, I hope. Hell, I even prefer Microsoft Project over Primavera and the rest of them. Powerpoint is criticized only when abused or used for things never intended...and that is on the user, not the software. In my last office it was abused severely and we all hated it...for the abuse.

Peter said...

"You can have great ideas backed up by data and logic, but if you don’t connect with people emotionally, it doesn’t matter."

This seems somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That is, as media increasingly skew toward connecting with people emotionally, audiences will become incresingly unable to follow any argument that lacks that amped-up emotional connection.

When it comes to projecting emotional intensity, video will win over text every time. So if we follow this argument to its conclusion, text is dead and video (or at least narrated animation) shall be king.

Except to those of us who just despise these amped-up emotional projections, and continue to prefer the quiet intensity of print.

Because, one can always argue with print- just set it down and scribble in the margins, so to speak- in ways that are all but impossible with immersive multimedia.

jay-dubya said...

I did a simple Google search- "gapminder software" - and it appears the rumors of its death are somewhat exaggerated...