Monday, July 13, 2015

PowerPoint is Like Twitter

One of the things you run into if you work in almost any office is the ubiquitous misconception that PowerPoint is an program in any way suited to creating a text document. PowerPoint is not Word, and there are umpteen reasons for that, but it also *is* used – perhaps more than not – for documents other than presentations, at least in-person, spoken, before-a-live-audience presentations. PPT has a certain fame outside its drily intended purpose(s) thanks to David Byrne, and that is sometimes my saving grace when painfullystakingly working to edit a report we produce weekly, which some of my kids think is like a book report.

My theory regarding PPT's unique uses and misuses is that the concept of “slides” versus “pages” makes it seem to the brain that there is a buffet table with multiple individual offerings of information, whereas Word can seem like one stupendous serving of text. Excel is a dizzying menu you can’t read from where you're standing, and when you get close enough for your glasses to help you, you find out the whole thing’s in Swahili, and darn if that’s not on your list of spoken (nor read) languages.

The problem with the buffet is, given the limitations of the sideboard, each element on it has only so much space.

This space is best not set out as if it were a full, sit-down supper. This space should not come with its own separate plates, utensils, napkins, glassware, and so on.

And, given the parameters of a pot luck smorgasbord, this space is always going to attract some cooks who will insist upon overdoing their contributions.

You cannot equip text on a PPT slide with full grammatical formality. You cannot indulge in full sentences, elegant (or not) descriptors, nor (for Maud’s sake, even I can’t tolerate this anymore) DOUBLE SPACES AFTER PERIODS. Forget about using “a”, “the”, and any conjugation of the verb “to be”. Put out the dish you have to serve, present it with pride, and be done. Garnish is for the graphics, but the text you write must be simple – and short.

I had a boss once, positively obsessed with pithiness. So much so we called it pith. Good times were had.

Such an imperative to brevity could wear on a wordy wench like me, but even I, for a paycheck, understand that sometimes KISS doesn’t stand merely for Keep It Simple Stupid (nor even Kids In Satan’s Service – hah), but Keep It SHORT Stupid.

As with Twitter, sometimes you find yourself in PPT, figuring out which grammar crime to commit in order to stay within the limitations.

I can get pretty criminal in PPT. I commit crimes against my beloved mother tongue which in any other context would be, for me, all but unthinkable.

But I am a morbidly driven cuss when it comes to PPT, and I *insist* upon dealing with it on its own terms, and so my own terms become necessarily secondary.

This is what it’s like having any job, really.

Even writing – you write for yourself first, but if you want to sell, you revise, and eventually you realize there are readers out there.

Going to work as a whole is like Twitter; you edit yourself to fit the 140 character limit. Some folks cover their tatts, some try to remember not to swear, most of us have, to some degree or other, to “leave home at home” even as others have to remember to leave work at the office. We’re all varying successes; what a PowerPoint extravaganza of poorly considered graphical results humanity might be.

Sometimes, you really feel the limits, those tiny boundaries seeming to compress your own resources. It can be hard to stay inside.

When life is churning up enormous emotions: you have to choose which social crimes to commit, at the office. You have to conserve your reserves of good cheer when it’s difficult to synthesize, but you can’t expend negativity in its stead. You constrict, you shrink, you spend a nod instead of a smile and “how are you” – you only have 140 expressions for the day, and they have to be good ones.

PPT can be a poor medium for text.

Offices can be poor medium in which to store your heart, forty hours per week.

Character limits. Suddenly: some layers in that phrase – one of them being “irony” …


Colin Smith said...

PPT Rule of Thumb: If you spend your entire presentation simply reading what the PPT slides say, you are not using PPT correctly. :)

I wonder if those who were brought up on overhead projectors and writing on clear sheets of acetate understand better?

DLM said...

It would be nice to think so, but my experience seems to indicate that PPT is so entirely its own thing it has no connection to overhead transparencies in people's minds. Someone I consider really dynamic and intelligent just today sat and read slides at us - not all of them, and not every last word, but closely enough it was hilarious as I thought about this very post. The good news is, she had not indulged in the GBOT ( (and yeah, here I am not hyperlinking, at YOU of all wizards!).

Before I ever had to do any public speaking, I was sure I would need a lectern and at least notes in front of me. Once I had to, I found the protective barrier/support of the lectern actually terrifying, and my brain physiologically incapable of concentrating on text. I stepped out and close to my audience, and found that speech came - and not only did I recall what I had wanted to say, but I said it better in some flashes than my notes would have allowed me to do. I surfed the electrical energy of my own nervousness, and ended up being pretty successful. The support was LIMITING.

PPT, if you use it as your text instead of just providing something nice to look at, or visually organized information, is the same way. It stands *between* speaker and audience, and their leaning on it makes them look nervous and ill-prepared.

DLM said...

Also, hi and thanks for stopping by! I haven't been piping up at Janet's blog since that whole "dude's a tool" debacle and life's little distractions, and am missing y'all.