by Judith Fein


I have just figured out how to save a lot of money: I will never again knowingly drive, fly, train, boat, bicycle or walk to a conference or talk where the speaker uses Powerpoint.

illustration by Austin Kleon via Flickr (commons license)I don’t know the origin of Powerpoint, and I could goggle it if I wished to, but I don’t care. This is how I think it began: some decades ago, teachers used transparency gels with factoids and bullet points. They were projected onto a screen and the teacher read the words aloud to students who promptly became comatose. One of my friends blames those gels for his dropping out of college. Years later, someone read a lot of studies, or maybe one key, antiquated study, that dealt with how people learn. The bottom line, according to said study, was that people learn, absorb and retain information through repetition. Furthermore, I imagine, the process is enhanced if the same information is imparted to the learner simultaneously through different delivery systems.

That was when Powerpoint emerged from the womb of ideas, gave its first mewl, and started to develop and grow. It may have been cute as a baby and seductive as a teen, but it is boring and enervating as an adult. Now I metaphorically puke when I hear the word “Powerpoint.”

It occurs to me that every day, in every country, business travelers don their suits, make sure their shoes are shined, fluff up their hair in airport mirrors and board flights. In fact, they keep the planes aloft with the money they spend on tickets.

They deplane at their destinations, and take cabs and limos, shuttles and buses to hotels. They check in, wheel their luggage to their rooms, freshen up, make sure the world still exists on T.V., and then go downstairs for conference registration. Hmm. Such wonderful offerings. Lectures on networking, increasing productivity, the effectiveness of teams, the importance of play and creativity. They consume a hotel meal of the chicken variety, and then arrive early to get a good seat in a conference room.

Out comes the speaker. She or he is affable enough, has a lengthy bio, and is obviously an expert. A computer is placed discreetly on a stand in front of her, a screen is behind her, and she is the yummy pastrami in that communication sandwich.

The audience is expectant, attentive. And then, it starts. Bulleted points appear on the screen. The same bulleted points are distributed in a handout. And I hope that future generations will believe me when I report that the speaker then reads the words on the screen which are identical to the words on the handout. If the audience is lucky, the lecturer adds a few details. If the audience is cursed, there is not anything beyond this universe of bulleted points.

Within ten minutes, a good portion of the audience is doodling. After twenty minutes, the fidgeting starts. By the half hour mark, waves of hot flashes, hives, somnolence and/or rebellion wash across the listeners. Powerpoint has done it again: it has dulled an excited audience and turned them into zombies. It’s the Night of the Living Dead conference once again.

In decades past, when there was a work-related congress, confab or conference, participants looked forward to jetting to desirable locations to get together and talk to each other. Now we fly to sterile meeting rooms to do exactly what we do at home and in office cubicles—stare at electronic screens.  

I am sure there are some of you out there who do not agree with me. You love Power Point. It speaks to your repetition-craving soul. But many of you know exactly what I am talking about. You want the lecturer to be a bit of a performer. A storyteller. An engaging person who is capable of spontaneity. You don’t want to think that the same lecture you are attending can and will be delivered to other groups in this lifetime and lifetimes to come. You want to feel a little special. You don’t want to learn from a Powerpoint-addicted automaton who goes through withdrawal without the screen, the computer and the handout.

Recently, I was at a class where the students said no to Powerpoint during a break.  They weren’t aggressive, they weren’t offensive, they just begged the teacher to turn the damn computer off. First, she looked dazed. Then she listened. And, bless her little freedom-loving heart, she ditched the Powerpoint and became both powerful and pointed. The class improved two hundred percent in the first two spontaneous minutes after the break.

What if we all refused to travel anywhere to hear a Disempowerpoint presentation? Some of the lecturers would surely panic. Others would have coming out parties at finding their true voices again. But audiences would rejoice at having a person in front of them who could, perhaps, forget a point or two or even lose his place in his notes. He might shuffle papers and become…well…endearingly human.

Farewell bullet points. I see you losing your hold on modern listeners as I write these words. I see you fading from screens, disappearing from handouts. Audiences will turn their backs on you as they learn to take notes again, in their own handwriting or on their own keyboards.

The “new” kind of speaker I yearn for is actually as old as humanity. He is the pre-technology spellbinder who sits in the light of a fire, speaking words that create worlds. He is the oral historian who teaches indigenous people who they are, where they come from and where they need to go. He engages their minds and hearts in ways they will never forget. He may say something only once, and they had better pay close attention or they will never hear it again. He uses parables, metaphors, re-enactment. And the listeners learn that his stories and information are vital to their survival as a clan, a culture, as individuals. For thousands of years they repeat the stories the way they learned them, perfectly presented and perfectly retained.

Maybe one day, when our civilization implodes from lack of money, imagination and soul, the storytellers who survive will speak of the long ago days of Powerpoint as we talk about the debacle at Thermopalylae or the Inquisition. As they weave tales of bullet points and handouts, will any of their listeners stay awake long enough to care?


YourLifeIsATrip.com co-founder Judith Fein is an award-winning international travel journalist who lives to leave. She resided for more than ten years in Europe and North Africa and has a passion for adventures that are exotic, authentic, quirky, historic and immersed in local culture. In her new book LIFE IS A TRIP, Judie takes readers on l4 exotic adventures where she learns from other cultures new and transformative approaches to family discord, death, success, fear, faith, forgiveness and overcoming trauma. 


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