Should We Outlaw PowerPoint?

A new political party in Switzerland wants to make PowerPoint illegal!

PowerPoint PresentationThe 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.

Mike Hoban is a management consultant in his day job and can be contacted at business-at-large@sbcglobal.net

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10 Comments

  • Harrison Monarth

    Another (great) publicity stunt from Poehm. After all it got written up in Fast Company. Of course the same presenters who make Powerpoint presentations the bane of office cultures everywhere will do the same to flipcharts. So, instead of slides that are too busy, too complex, that merely serve as cue cards to unprepared presenters, we'll have flipcharts that feature illegible handwriting, presenters who turn their backs to the audience while they take precious time writing or drawing things, and even if prepared beforehand, speakers will use the flipchart as a cue card to remember what to say. Poehm, who is Switzerland's meek answer to Tony Robbins, isn't doing his followers any favors with his rant against PowerPoint. Rather, teach them how to use it effectively, and sparingly, with the presenter doing the work, NOT the PowerPoint slide.  

  • Laura Foley

    This is a great marketing ploy of Mr. Poehm's to sell his new book, and I'm sorry I didn't think of it first. But blaming bad presentations on PowerPoint is like blaming a lousy baseball play on a bad glove. If you don't start every presentation with an outline, a desired outcome (e.g., educating the audience, changing habits, buying products), and compelling information then the deck is doomed.

    I try to design decks as backdrops to what the speaker is presenting. Each slide is a touchstone to the topic he will be speaking about, not a script to be followed. It's often difficult to convince my clients that less is more but it really is true, especially with PowerPoint.

    The best way to cheat death by PowerPoint is to know your topic cold before going in front of the audience. The same goes for flipcharts, too.

  • Jeffery Chapman

    I use both flipcharts and PowerPoint.  They are both great tools.  Flipchart allows for productive interactive stuff and I love the giant post-it-note flipcharts as you can display your pages that you have made.  PowerPoint can only show one page at a time.

    I also use a tablet PC so I can use PowerPoint/screen as a flipchart/whiteboard.

    Flip chart cant replace PowerPoint - who wants to write presentation points out on a flip chart.  However, this would be good to do if you are not confident in your technology or ability to troubleshoot.

    A key to good presentations is having lots of time on the front end to setup and test before the meeting starts.

    Finally, important presentation and their presenters should be criticed ahead of time and "punishing" feedback (sorry, constructive criticism) should be given after presentations are given.  Focusing on developing your team members' presentation skills with have a positive impact on every aspect of their performace.

  • Pam Court

    I have had what I'd call a near death experience sitting through a horrible PowerPoint that included Visio charts {this would be my choice of the next Microsoft product to be banned}, but the same could be said of flip charts. I liked the idea presented in The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam, is Poehm's concept similar?

  • Sandra Zimmer

    Oh, come on!  This is shameless promotion on Mr. Poehm's part!  Yet, I have to admit two things - 1) He was very bold to do so and 2) I agree that the use of PowerPoint is an overused and often boring crutch.  I prefer to see speakers tell stories to make their points and to put their energy into making real connection with listeners.

    May I share a link to an article I published in The Houston Business Journal entitled "PowerPoint - An 'Epidemic' Sapping Presenter Effectiveness & Costing Deals?" My article encourages presenters to spend less time with preparing slides adn more time with preparing to connect and also lists some dos and dont's of using Powerpoint, if you must. Find my article at

    Thanks for letting me be a little shamelass as well!

    Sandra Zimmer

  • David Kaiser, PhD

    Hmmm, not a big fan of banning stuff. That said, most powerpoints are terrible. Perhaps we need to ask Microsoft to build some parameters into it, say, no more than 25 words per slide, must be at least 16 point font, and put in a regulator so that no more than one slide per minute, and fifty slides total, can exist in one file. Perhaps a social norm could be that if you read the slide, word for word, the audience is allowed to BOO, even if it's the CEO. I'm just thinking out loud...

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Productivity Coach to C-Level Leaders
    www.DarkMatterConsulting.com

     

  • Simon Morton

    Love the idea of BOOING presenters who default to reading slides word-for-word!

    Bring it on!

  • Marshall Makstein

    A public speaking
    trainer by trade, Poehm believes that if his party becomes the fourth largest
    in Switzerland, he will gain enough press coverage to bring attention to his
    Anti-PowerPoint “"movement.” But it seems his real goal is bringing enough attention to his new book that promotes the use of flip charts over PowerPoint. This is like saying he finds people read his hand written letters more carefully than email, so we should ban email. He seems to have succeeded in getting plenty of attention with his Anti-PowerPoint party, but will not succeed. Without a good PowerPoint show to promote his idea in the corporate market, he does not have a chance!

  • Simon Morton

    It should be in "The Onion" - banning PowerPoint because of poor presentations is akin to banning Word because of bad report writing.  

    Blame the fool...not the tool (courtesy of Garr Reynolds).

    All of that said, I applaud the fact that it will make people think twice before launching yet another PowerPoint presentation.  If it makes a few people question if they are using the right medium to communicate with colleagues/prospects/customers, then the attention-grabbing/slightly dodgy attempts at selling books PR shenanigans will have done some good.

    But banning a piece of software without addressing the cause of the issue (the users)?  Plain daft...