Mission Impossible: Using PowerPoint well.

Death by PowerPoint is the bane of every staff officer, and not a few NCOs. Now Microsoft itself is sending a troubleshooter to the Army to help the get the most out of PPT, without killing every pixel in the universe.


…Karle isn’t trying to get the Army to use Microsoft’s presentation software. PowerPoint is already ubiquitous within the Army — to the chagrin of many an officer. Karle’s mission is much harder: stopping the Army from using it stupidly.

“I’m chasing the bad ideas out of presentations,” Karle tells Danger Room by phone from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He’s there for a meeting at the Combined Arms Center, the Army’s central nervous system for writing and spreading its doctrine. Working with an Army major at the Center, John Roberson, Karle — himself a 15 year Army veteran who served in Iraq — has come up with what he alternately calls Modern Presenter or the Modern Presentation Method, all to revive the poor headquarters officers who’ve suffered Death By PowerPoint.

via Microsoft Helps Army Avoid ‘Death by PowerPoint’ | Danger Room | Wired.com.

How bad are some slides?


Pretty bad. Mind you, a lot of that is because of the complexity the services have managed to build into relatively simple concepts, but you get the point.

12 thoughts on “Mission Impossible: Using PowerPoint well.”

  1. It’s not just the stupidity of some slides. I read about a Warrant Officer being transferred who was ordered to produce a power Point Presentation for his relief to orient him to his new duties. I would have thought a walk through of the shop, with introductions, along with a tour of the files and other associated stuff, would have been far more effective and efficient.

    1. The main body of the article talks about that sort of thing. Use the best tool for the job. Why use PPT when a word doc or a white board would be better? Or in the case you mentioned, a physical walk through.

  2. I was actually thinking about attending this training but since I am on leave I opted not to. Wasn’t too exciting, to look at the pre-brief. Things like “use pictures and words to increase retention.”. Or “set your slide up so that it can be read in a Z pattern.”. It certainly wasn’t anything like advocating less use of ppt.

  3. But there is a point to be made for PowerPoint. My line of work puts me at the tip of the proverbial spear on these issues. I’ve seen some good, and I mean very good, uses of the tool over time. And I’ve seen some really lousy ones. The later tend to show up in offices where information management is only a little more evolved than a grocery list. What’s broke isn’t PowerPoint, or even reliance on PowerPoint, but rather the Army’s approach to information management.

  4. In my opinion, the only good use for powerpoint is to serve as an outline for the well-prepared and well-informed staffer to brief from. And then, in printed form, serves as a note-taking guide for the recipient. PPT has become the briefing, and too many users use it as a crutch by showing a slide with all the briefing written on it and then they announce “I’m not going to insult you by reading the briefing” or words to that effect, while they cringe in fear that the person(s) receiving the briefing will ask an actual question.

    1. I used to make a lot of money making PPT presentations. And putting in enough stuff to give good information, vs. putting in way too much and stuff getting lost in the clutter was a problem.

      If you need to put in that much information, you probably need to use word, not PPT.

  5. I have two Powerpoint presentations for next week. Mine are rather plain vanilla because I didn’t get the graphics department involved in designing the master slide for me. I know I will see at least one ppt with an eye-catching layout but utterly devoid of information.

  6. I’ve used ppt to teach with, and took a course a number of years ago on Visual BASIC at a tech school. The BASIC course teacher did a very good job with it and did not use it in an overbearing fashion. He had discovered the same principles I had discovered.

    The “Z” pattern stuff is just tweaks for things you already do fairly well, that may or may not be effective. When ppt is already being misused, just tweaking a presentation will have little effect. The software has become a crutch, at best, or a way to overwhelm someone with irrelevant junk to cover the ignorance of the presenter, at worst.

    A few years backI remember a fictional brief of a supposed CG in Iraq where the briefer said “we gave the enmy all our copies of ppt and his OODA loop has lengthened by at least a factor of 10.” The CG replied, I knew there was a use for that stuff somewhere.”

  7. Your one example of a problem is actually an excellent model in the Acquisition world. It is called the Horse Blanket and it is produced by the Defense Acquisition University. It actually shows the entire life cycle of a weapon system. When all of the blocks go to red is the production and usage phase. Everything up to that point is Design, R&D and Testing. Its time frame is 3 – 6 years. Everything in red is 6 – 25 + years (look at B-52, etc). Trust me, it is NOT a PowerPoint slide. It is about 4 feet by 3 feet…and I have one on the wall of my office.

    This logically organization has actually helped fix a LOT opf the procurement issues you have identified in earlier columns.

    Nowif you want PowerPoint Presentation From Hell I can share some of those with you!

    1. John, I swiped that particular graphic from the article, but I’m actually familiar with it. In fact, I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m almost certain I’ve talked about it before in the context of procurement.

      And in that context, it shows just how nutty procurement is. It is far too complex for anyone to understand without spending an entire career in it, and then you’d have the problem that the people that understand procurement have no operational background to understand the effectiveness of what they’re buying.

      It weren’t always thus. There’s a ton of room for improvement.
      And it is interesting that they used a ppt style graphic to illustrate just how idiotically complex the problem is…

      THE uber-ppt slide was the one Petraeus had drawn up showing what was going on in A-stan. I’ve seen plates of spaghetti that were more orderly.

  8. Don’t disagree…which is why the rules for acsessions into the Acquisition Corps changed abotu 2 years ago. We do have people with a lot of operational experience in the Corps now. And we do understand that chart very well. Its a lesson learned and why things are getting beter.

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