On the Scourge of PowerPoint
A number of you have asked why I insist that you prepare your presentation slides with something other than Powerpoint.
Let me try to explain in the following way.
Consider Abraham Lincoln's famous speech (c. 1863), the Gettysburg Address (delivered at the dedication of the Soldiers National
Cemetary in Gettysburg during the American Civil War):
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. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place
for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men,
living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor
long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to
the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the
great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last
full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God,
shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the
That was it. A beautiful, powerful, and moving speech made by a great man.
Now, click on the following link to see how this speech would have
likely been abused by Powerpoint:
In response to this, Scott Skjei writes:
To David's "ban" on PowerPoint, Bravo!
Some of the good folks at 3M "discovered" that PowerPoint was a
terrible way to tell a story. A better way to tell a story is to ---
wait for it --- tell a story. Their experience is detailed in
"Strategic Stories: How 3M Is Rewriting Business Planning" by Shaw et
al. (1998) May-June edition, Harvard Business Review and is available
Like most of us, I've bumbled my way through a few PowerPoint
presentations. I hated it, and so did my audience, but they were
(usually) too kind to say otherwise.
Besides the sloppy thinking that PP encourages/allows, it is also a
*terrible* way to present anything that requires mathematical
notation. This is to be expected. Microsoft's market is the business
community, not the scientific community. This is why typesetting
anything beyond a+b=c in Word, PP, et cetera is difficult, not to
mention ugly. Really ugly.
There is a solution, and it is TeX and/or LaTeX. For just one
Besides preparing papers, there are packages for lecture/presentation
slides. The best news, though, is that TeX/LaTeX is free! No really,
I'm serious. True, there is a bit of a learning curve, but anyone
that can get into graduate school can learn to use LaTeX. Once the
software is installed, one hour is usually all it takes to develop a
basic competency. Like everything else around here, when in doubt,
ask your peers. (Hint: Some of us will even spend 15 min or so
showing you how to produce documents in LaTeX. Buying beers afterward
is optional, though appreciated.)
Learning to use LaTeX is also a good bridge into learning how to use
other "scientific" computing tools. For those of you interested in
empirical matters, you have access to the best computational
environment available (GNU/Linux) and at no cost. Recall the email
Simon sent about access to the department cluster: Why anyone would
do empirical work in a Windows environment is beyond me, especially
when better alternatives are available in the open source community.
Again, for introductions to these things, talk to your peers. If you
don't have peers that know about this kind of thing, talk to me. I
like all this nerdy computer stuff.
-- Scott Skjei, PhD Student, 2007