There’s a post circulating (again) these days which claims that
“PowerPoint Is Worse Than Useless – Intuitively, anecdotally, and scientifically, PowerPoint may be the worst business tool ever created.” the article claims that “Harvard just discovered it” (spoiler alert: it’s a clickbait, the team from Harvard published the study already 5 years ago).
The article picks this information from another Forbes post from 2017 (I am writing this in 2021) which itself reports data from the aforementioned research article published in 2016: “Does a presentation’s medium affect its message?”.
Why is all of this simply untrue?
What does the article say, really?
“[…] participants evaluated PowerPoint presentations comparably to oral presentations, but evaluated Prezi presentations more favourably than both PowerPoint and oral presentations”.
What that means is not that PowerPoint is worse than useless, it’s that in a set of 2 experiments Prezi was perceived more favourably than PowerPoint. No considerations about the uselessness of PowerPoint could be made (in fact there is also research that points out that having PowerPoint slideware is better than not, if you want to persuade people).
The researchers are careful in saying:
“like others, we caution against technological determinism: Presentation medium is but one of many factors that determine presentation success, and presentations that rely on any given medium can succeed or fail.”
And they are so right in saying that.
Picking a single element in preparing a presentation and generalising that “X is BAD” is not just dangerous, it’s plain idiotic.
It’s like saying that Microsoft Word is bad because one book that was written using Word has bad reviews.
Or like saying that all emails written with Microsoft Outlook are bad because someone pressed “reply all” and shared confidential information with the whole company.
Why Prezi is perceived as better than PowerPoint? (Hint: Animations and structure)
If we zoom in to why the researchers think that Prezi (or how they call their UI: ZUI) is perceived more favourably than PPT, we find out that the main reasons are:
- Proper animations, specifically zooming and panning animations that draw the attention of the listener to the right things. Opposed to the animations of PowerPoint: “Slideware, on the other hand, encourages the use of superfluous animation in slide transitions and object entrances/exits, despite evidence that adding such “seductive details” to multimedia presentations can be counter- productive.”
- A better structure (Prezi comes pre-filled with structure and templates)
The interesting thing is that, if you know how to use PowerPoint, you can achieve the exact same zooming and panning effect that Prezi is built on (if you are interested to know how let me know).
Of course a presentation medium affects its message. As much as the weather, the presenter him or herself, the venue, how you dress, the mood of the audience and who came before.
Everything affects the message you are sending in a presentation, not just the tool you use to build the slides.
You can be the best Prezi (or PowerPoint, Keynote, Canva,..) presentation builder of all time, but if your content sucks, it’s badly organised and you speak with a monotone voice, it won’t matter.
That’s why we have created a useful Presentation Design Canvas to help you take everything into account when preparing a presentation and we have a fully online course that walks you through every aspect of a presentation: architecture, visuals and delivery. Try it, it’s free.