Exploiting Verbal-Visual Synergy in Presentation Slides

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Has any other software program ever elicited as much ire from as many commentators as PowerPoint did in the first few years of this century? During this period, the slideware was accused of editing ideas (Parker 2001), turning everything into a sales pitch (Tufte 2003a), and making the speaker dumb (Thompson 2003). The respected graphics scholar Edward Tufte, for whom the software became a white whale, called it evil, first in an article (2003a) and later in a monograph (2003b). (As I read him, he seems to have been serious.) Even those commentators who were reluctant to impute ethical characteristics to objects had difficulty escaping the PowerPoint Is Evil gravitational field. Peter Norvig (2005), for instance, conceded that, although people (not software) kill meetings, using PowerPoint “is like having a loaded AK-47 on the table: you can do very bad things with it” (10).

Thankfully, the PowerPoint Is Evil fever seems to have run its course. We are now several years into what might be called the Intelligent Use era, in which commentators, while conceding some of the program’s considerable limitations, propose and test ways to help people use the software effectively to accompany oral presentations about technical subjects.

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