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‘Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint’ by Russell Davies

This book combines a history of the development of PowerPoint software, an ode to its functions, advice on presenting well, and—most up my street—an excoriation of poor corporate communication. The prose is written in a personal, conversational style, interspersed with PowerPoint slides—a couple of which I recently shared. It is a riot of a book.

Davies argues powerfully and convincingly that PowerPoint is often wrongly blamed for failures which lie elsewhere—usually in poor decisions about communication. Too often, screeds that should have been documents are pasted onto slides.

I didn’t understand why everyone was so contemptuous of a tool I found so joyous and liberating. I understood that bad presentations were bad. I’d sat through a lot of them. But I couldn’t quite see why everyone blamed the tool itself. It seemed like blaming pulpits for the boringness of sermons or printing for the tedium of books. I started to get a chip on my shoulder about all this PowerPointHate.

The section about presentations before PowerPoint—overhead projectors, transparencies, and those special felt-tipped pens—brought memories of giving presentations at medical school flooding back. Even in my fourth year, by which time PowerPoint was pretty common, we were routinely expected to have a backup on transparencies in case of ‘technical failure’—I remember deciding to buy transparencies that my printer could print onto, at what seemed like enormous expense. I hadn’t thought about that in years.

The second on corporate communication was great, which isn’t surprising: Davies was heavily involved with the creation of gov.uk which has a brilliant style guide. It is a shame that it is not more often followed by government departments. The line that will stay with me for longest is the astute observation that the word ‘key’ can almost always be deleted from any corporate document without consequence.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

This post was filed under: What I've Been Reading, .

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