Ahem! Are you paying attention? Powerpoint presentations

Acknowledgement: FC Expert blogger Mike Hoban – Jul 8, 2011.

The headline in the July 6 Christian Science Monitor story–”PowerPoint Ban: Swiss Political Party Wants to Outlaw the Software”–looked like it belonged in The Onion. Or it might be a “Tupac is alive!” prank promulgated by media hackers. But no, it’s the real deal. Well, sort of.

The Anti-PowerPoint Party (APPP) is a new movement formed to, as indicated in its website, “influence the public to put a stop to the phenomenon of idle time in the economy, industry, research and educational institutions.” With all of the workplace distractions of betting on sports events, Facebooking, YouTubing, etc. the APPP has called out PowerPoint as the most visible and egregious threat to productivity. The party claims the annual global waste in lost productivity because of lousy PowerPoint presentations is about $500 billion. That’s billion with a “b.” So far Microsoft has not issued an official response.

The APPP’s founder, a professional public speaker named Matthias Poehm, points out that he is not just picking on PowerPoint, but rather all presentation software. PowerPoint is simply the most ubiquitous and hence, has become the target. He says the party’s studies have found that 85% of participants in meetings find that the software-based presentations are “killing motivation.” The APPP wants to solicit signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in Switzerland to outlaw the tool.

That immodest proposal might sound like a good idea for many of us who have been subjected to the slide decks from hell in meetings, even if we philosophically reject the idea of government overreach. I know I have experienced some abysmal presentations in which presenters read every word on every poorly designed slide and there have been occasions I considered faking a personal medical emergency just to get myself removed from the room.

But wait! Mr. Poehm also says he does not really want to prevent anyone from using it. He just wants to raise the level of awareness and conversation through a public debate about it. And in fact, what he really wants is for Switzerland and the rest of the world to use flip charts for presentations instead. Turns out he is a flip chart zealot. Perhaps he likes the smell of the markers. The website states the case rather authoritatively: “Compared to PowerPoint, the use of flip-charts creates a multiple effect for the audience in terms of impact, excitement, and comprehensibility.”

And what if we did indeed switch to using flipcharts in all meetings? Mr. Poehm on his website believes this will create fun and excitement in workplaces everywhere and that the Swiss economy would benefit greatly and ultimately would be seen as innovation leaders for the rest of the planet. We just need to stop using the likes of PowerPoint, which Mr. Poehm likens to a disease.

If he’s right, perhaps the recent global financial meltdown was exacerbated by inane and boring PowerPoint presentations at all the banks, mortgage companies and hedge funds. Perhaps the economic mess could have been averted or at least minimized if we had all been using flipcharts. And admittedly, it’s way cheaper than a $700 billion TARP fund.

Oh, one more thing. Mr. Poehm would like us to buy his new book, The PowerPoint Fallacy which happens to be available from the APPP website and which can be had at a discount for anyone signing up to be an APPP member (which is free).

It’s disappointing that while the APPP claims to aspire to be Switzerland’s fourth largest political party, this incipient movement might not be as much a new popular uprising (the “Swiss Summer”) as it is Mr. Poehm’s PR campaign to hawk some books, capture some headlines and win his 15 minutes of fame.

Still, part of his underlying premises about how annoying PowerPoint can be is right. Therefore, the next time we are caught in a particularly ghastly PowerPoint presentation, one so odious that we are silently praying for the temporary loss of our sensory organs, we can politely but firmly tell the presenter that there are countries where that kind of performance is potentially illegal.

We’ll all just have to see what kind of traction this movement gets in the coming months. Will this just be one man tilting at windmills or will it spawn other organizations like Mothers Against Spreadsheets? Stay tuned.

Full disclosure – The author is both a PowerPoint user and a flipchart user.

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