The Plight of Modern Presentation Software

We all have a common perception of what a modern slide deck should look like.



  • Bullet
  • Bullet
  • Bullet

Another Point

  • Bullet
  • Bullet
  • Bullet

… etc.

From a structural standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with information being presented in this way. In fact, this structure is quite reminiscent of common written essay structures and therefore is easy to understand to digest. Unfortunately, modern presentation software’s ability to produce this structure quickly has greatly inhibited our ability to deviate from the norm; presentations are rarely creative.

I first recognized this reality as I read through the analogy of bikes and cars in Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. In the book, Reynolds begs the question:

During the planning stages of a presentation, does your computer function as a bicycle for your mind, amplifying your own capabilities and ideas? Or is it more like a car for your mind with prepackaged formulas that make your ideas soft? Your mind benefits when you use the computer like a bike, but it loses out when you rely on technology’s power the way you rely on your car’s power.

Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen

Do technologies like Google Slides and Microsoft Powerpoint amplify our creative ideas? Or, do they simplify them into a “prepackaged formula?” I say the latter.

It makes sense how this problem emerged. Users want things to be simple and fast. Naturally, in user testing, users would have consistently informed the creators of presentation software that they want the fastest way to replicate the structure they seek: Title, Body, Bullets, etc..

These tools are built specifically to make it stupid easy to build presentations from this structure.

Therefore, it is stupid easy to build presentations from this structure.

Therefore, it is much harder to build presentations that deviate from this structure.

Therefore, it is hard to be creative when creating presentations.

(No, fun slide themes !== creativity)

To illustrate how presentations can be dramatically improved (without significantly changing understanding by deviating from a presentation flow that makes sense), I sketched a presentation about dogs:

Excuse the less-than-ideal sketching ability

When I’m able to explore building presentations unbounded by the preferred structure of modern software tools, I’m able to creative something significantly more unique, engaging, and visually interesting… something more creative.

You and I aren’t going to change the way Google Slides or Powerpoint works any time soon, but we can sketch out ideas before using those tools in order to ensure that our ideas are not bounded by the limitations of the software we use.

Reynolds, Garr. Presentation Zen (Voices That Matter) (p. 55). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition.

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