Sunday, June 18, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

This movie is an absolute must see for all the obvious reasons. No need to go into those.

But one thing about the movie does stand out: it's a PowerPoint presentation. Now, normally, I deplore such things. As Edward Tufte has pointed out, PowerPoint (PP) encourages sloppy thinking and lazy presentation. And 99.99% of the time that's true. But not here. For once, here's an example of a PP presentation that works.

Part of the reason Gore's pressentaion works, of course, is that we don't just see the PP presentation. This is a movie, after all. And Gore has given this presentation 1,000+ times - so he's a pro. But I realized watching this movie that the slides really did help make the case. How's that?

One reason is that Gore (and the filmmakers) undermine several of PP's purported "strengths." They avoid bullet lists and there's little fluff (or what fluff there is, like some of the animation, is actually pretty effective). Gore uses PP to show pictures and data - line charts, in particular. And PP is an effective means of doing this. (It is noticeable that Gore never refers to this as a "PowerPoint" presentation - always instead as a "slide show." In fact, I'm not sure if he was actually using PP for his presentation.)

The lesson is this: PP can be an effective tool for conveying certain kinds of information when the presenter is already super well-prepared. PP complements Gore's presentation because he barely needs it. But all too often people rely on PP as a crutch because they themselves are unprepared. We should be telling people to only use PP when they already have a command of their presentation. Otherwise PP takes control of the presenter, rather than the other way around.


Blogger Scot MacLean said...

John, your review makes me want to go see Gore's movie. Now I just need a babysitter. I agree whole heartedly with your take on Power Point presentations and I'm interested in seeing how Gore makes his informative rather than mind numbing.

I wonder if he produced the slideshow with Keynote, Apple's Power Point like presentation software? I believe Gore is on Apple's board of directors!

2:00 AM  
Blogger don said...

It was definitely produced using Keynote, probably Keynote 2, given the film's release date

7:47 PM  

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