While management consulting has pioneered many advances in business management, the industry is responsible for perpetuating many, of what I consider to be, horrific business sins. One of the most egregious and widespread of management consulting offenses is the practice of slide-umentation, a term I first heard while conversing with Eric, which refers to the use of Microsoft PowerPoint as the dominant form of documentation.
Slide-umentation is horrible for the following five reasons:
- PowerPoint leads to bad presentation style. By now, everyone has experienced a horrific PowerPoint presentation, whether as a student or as a professional. While the blame ultimately lies with the presenter, you can probably trace many bad presentation habits to PowerPoint. Too many presenters fail to engage the audience and instead stare or read off of slides, thinking either that gimmicky transitions or overused clipart will create a presence that they lack or that effective presenting involves constructing slides which contain all the possible information and then regurgitating it live.
- PowerPoint leads to bad presentation content. The use of PowerPoint creates a wall separating the presentation itself (i.e. standing up and delivering it) from the creation of the presentation (i.e. typing and laying it out on your computer). People thus tend to do both miserably — they create presentations which can neither be read as documents (poor content choice and layout) nor presented (inclusion of too much information in some places and too little). How many times have you seen a PowerPoint presentation that had both a slide that had so much text it was size 10 font and another slide that was written as bullet-ed incomplete and incoherent nonsense?
- PowerPoint leads to bad design. What percentage of PowerPoint presentations do you think of as laid out beautifully? The software is misused as a lazy-man’s publishing software and typesetting package — its presentation design software. End of story. People need to stop treating the software like it can lay out magazines or edit picture albums.
- There are superior alternatives to PowerPoint as a means of documentation. Results and findings ought to be well-documented. The thoughts should be complete, the assumptions laid bare, and the analyses should be linked to or described in a way such that the reader understands and can, if realistic and necessary, re-do them. Figures should be presented where they are supposed to be as complete entities on their own. These are basic concepts which make written documents easy to read for understanding. PowerPoint doesn’t let you document complete thoughts. It doesn’t let you explain all your assumptions or your analysis. It doesn’t present figures as complete entities, but as graphical trinkets to be included for show. I’m partial to LaTeX as a means of beautifully typesetting and organizing my findings (i.e. my thesis and various semester research modules), but its simple and just as effective to use a Word Processor like Microsoft Word or a layout tool such as Adobe’s InDesign.
- Slide-umentation snowballs into more bad presentations and more bad content. Why slide-ument at all? The most likely reason is that the executives at the client company are probably hoping to directly cannibalize slide-uments for their own presentations to their own bosses, staff, shareholders, and boards. If this isn’t a vicious cycle, I don’t know what is.
It’s a shame that I’m such a big fan of design and presentation improvement blog Presentation Zen (which recently put up a very fascinating piece on the impact of the now 20-years-old PowerPoint) and the work of design guru Edward Tufte — both big and vocal advocates against the use of PowerPoint. The career choice I’ve made seems to work against my learned revulsion to PowerPoint presentations.
But, in the hopes that one day I might actually have some say or that some management consultant with clout actually reads this, my own two cents on how consultants ought to use PowerPoint and present findings to their clients:
- Use PowerPoint only for elegantly crafted and well-delivered presentations.
- Document your findings and results with LaTeX.