New York Times article once more rips into the military use of Powerpoint for decision making: when will they ever learn?

One of the slides I showed in my Presentation Magic workshop at Macworld Expo this year has now made it into a Powerpoint critique in a New York Times article, by Elizabeth Bimuller, entitled, “We have met the enemy and he is Powerpoint”. Here’s the featured slide from a war room Pentagon briefing:

Unfortunately, the projector at Macworld didn’t talk nice with my Macbook Pro so those present at the workshop couldn’t make it out too well, but here I think you get the picture. It is but one of several similar mappings in Powerpoint presentations to the US military leadership which the Times article describes thus:

Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No doubt there will be many who will complain, with some justification, that once more Powerpoint is being ripped into as a cause rather than the medium it is… but, as I have long written and demonstrated in my workshops, if it is only the medium, then why are 95% of presentations one sees so similarly disengaging with their overuse of text, bullet points and impenetrable graphics? That number increases to 99% if you randomly download Powerpoint presentations from the web (using any esoteric keyword you like in Google) and add .mil or .gov.

As has been written elsewhere, the look and feel of a Powerpoint slide is directly correlated with the hierarchical structure of an organisation: the more levels in the organisation, the more headers, sub headers, and sub sub headers you’ll see in the slides the organisation generates. And the more disengaging the slide in its message delivery.

Here’s a Government example from own state’s Education Department:

One day, these kind of Powerpoint slides will be a thing of the past

The New York Times article is a great read, and it reaches all the way up to President Obama. I like the way the author, with co-writer Helene Cooper conclude their piece, referring to news briefings to reporters:

Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters.

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, …. are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

The hypnotizing chickens quote comes from retired Colonel, Dr. Thomas X. Hammes who wrote a blistering critique of Powerpoint in the military, called “Dumb, dumb bullets”. Available here.

To see more of the military style of Powerpoint knowledge sharing and planning, you can download more examples here. (Do not eat lunch before, however.)


4 responses to “New York Times article once more rips into the military use of Powerpoint for decision making: when will they ever learn?

  1. “Bullshit baffles brains” is a commonly used tool in all forms of communication. I love the military Powerpoint example at the end of the article. It is awe inspiring.

  2. Uh, just what is that, anyway?

  3. Pingback: What happens when disseminating information is not the goal? « A Man With A Ph.D.

  4. Just an evolution of the 30 hour slick as grease briefings they would do at MACV headquarters for people during our time in Vietnam. The U.S Army has allowed staff officers who have no interest real soldiering to spend their time becoming Marketing executives…

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