Perils of Powerpoint


Speaker Notes

[Transcribed from voice recording by A. Lincoln, 11/18/63]

These are some notes on the Gettysburg meeting. I'll whip them into better shape when I can get on to my computer.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. …


Powerpoint (ppt), or some other, presentation software is almost the default option for higher education teaching, particularly for large classes. However, it needs to be used with care. On this page you'll find some pointers for its use with large classes, but first have a look at a ppt slide and speakers notes for The Gettysburg Address (above). It is interesting to note that this ‘joke’ has generated its own web pages explaining the idea and its development

(source: Peter Norvig).

Following from this the powerpoint critic Edward Tufte has noted:

For many years, overhead projectors lit up transparencies, and slide projectors showed high-resolution 35mm slides. Now "slideware" computer programs for presentations are nearly everywhere. Early in the 21st century, several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint were turning out trillions of slides each year.

Alas, slideware often reduces the analytical quality of presentations. In particular, the popular PowerPoint templates (ready-made designs) usually weaken verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupt statistical analysis. What is the problem with PowerPoint? And how can we improve our presentations?

In addition John Medina, the author of Brain Rules (2009), states that the brain attends to visual images, more that text, and more to moving images than still ones. About ppt he has written:

I think they suck. Even though PowerPoint appear to be visual in nature, people just put thier entire presentation on the slides and read off it. … text is one of the most impoverished ways of projecting information into the brain. We see individual letters as hieroglyphics … so the brain has to go by each letter in a word and inspect it each time. The brain simply gets tired of seeing text on the screen, particularly if you’ve got 40 words per slide, which is the average.