Death by PowerPoint: Can a Computer Software Really Kill?

“PowerPoint allows speakers to pretend that they are giving a real talk, and audiences to pretend that they are listening.”

– Edward Tufte


Officially launched in 1990, Microsoft’s version of PowerPoint is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Within this time period, the application has gone through not only a dozen remodels but also from being imminently praised amongst business users to being labeled as the cause of millions of metaphorical deaths.


According to an article published by Bloomberg in 2012, roughly 350 PowerPoint presentations were being given every second across the world. The author mentioned that at least 1 billion computers had the program installed and that PowerPoint essentially monopolized the presentation software market with a share of around 95%. There’s no indication that 3 years later, these numbers have dwindled.


Powerpoint | A Global Leader
Powerpoint | A Global Leader


“Death by PowerPoint”, the trending phrase upon which numerous articles are based on, was coined in 2001 by Angela Garber. In her editorial, she highlights some common PowerPoint usage errors that lead to the dullness pandemic. Amongst them are light dimming, information cramming, and lack of customization.


Since then, an “I hate PowerPoint” following seems to have been unleashed, take for example the Anti-PowerPoint Party. We can also refer to Edward Tufte’s 27-page critical essay, Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, where he argues that its usage “weakens verbal and spatial reasoning, and almost always corrupts statistical analysis.” What’s more, he notably criticizes that “PowerPoint allows speakers to pretend that they are giving a real talk, and audiences to pretend that they are listening.”


Powerpoint makes us stupid
“PowerPoint makes us stupid.” Gen. J. N. Mattis


The Global revolution against the program continues


It seems that several great leaders have opted away from the tool hoping to spare their employees from the seemingly devastating effects of a PowerPoint presentation; for the organization, their intent is to improve communication and heighten clarity during decision making.


In 2004, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sent an e-mail to his senior team advising them that narratives would replace PowerPoint presentations. To sum up the memo, Bezos writes that “PowerPoint-style presentations somehow give permission to gloss over ideas, flatten out any sense of relative importance, and ignore the interconnectedness of ideas.”


Made public by the New York Times, Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps bluntly declared at a 2010 press conference that “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” The same source cites also that 5 years earlier, another military man, General McMaster, banned the program entirely amongst his team because he viewed PowerPoint as “dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control.”


In the biography written by Isaacson, we learn that even Apple CEO Steve Jobs systematically banned the use of the software. Jobs hated “the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking.” He deemed that those “who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”


‘Ditching PowerPoint could save a lot of money’

These high-level decisions lead us to another important consideration: operational efficiency can be equated with cost savings. While Jobs and Bezos were adamant that their choice regarding the program was an idea stimulator, it’s no question that better ideas would most likely lead to healthier profits. The purpose of a corporation, at the end of the day, is to generate value for its owners.


Ditching PowerPoint could save a lot of money
Ditching PowerPoint could save a lot of money


The reality is that millions of employees are spending hours and hours preparing needless presentations; ditching PowerPoint could save a lot of money. Rather than concentrating on developing their ideas, they’re focusing on formatting pictures and animating slides. In many instances, these individuals rely on a visual aid software when they can just as easily convey their message with a simple e-mail or a quick talk.


Consider the average length of time of a presentation in your company. Then multiply that by a room full of viewers. Last, consider the hourly earnings of every one of those individuals. That becomes one pretty expensive message. If the majority of the content flew in one ear and out the other, was it worth it?


How much does one PowerPoint presentation cost?
How much does one PowerPoint presentation cost?


In 2006, an expert decided to spend some time understanding the cost of using the program. Referenced in How PowerPoint makes you stupid: The faulty causality, sloppy logic, decontextualized data, and seductive showmanship that have taken over our thinking, a large bank like Citigroup could save $47 million in lost time by eliminating PowerPoint presentations from their organization.


To support the financial argument further, we were delighted to come across this amusing, and perhaps worrisome, comment on BBC’s 2009 article on the same topic:
“I recently got sent an 80 slide presentation – I looked through the first couple in detail and then skimmed the rest. It described a proposal for a large piece of work worth £26m. The author asked me what I thought of it a couple of days later so I had to lie and say it was great. I spoke to a number of other people about it and all said they’d either skimmed it or not bothered reading it. Now the project is going ahead based on the presentation that nobody has read.”
Adrian, Telford


If the owner was one of the many who skimmed through the presentation, let’s hope he or she read at least this comment and made some necessary modifications to the company’s decision-making process!


Ultimately, Can a Software Really Kill?


If not literally able to draw blood, it is safe to say that there seem to be millions who squirm at the mention of PowerPoint. Admittingly, we haven’t actually surveyed millions of people to validate this claim, but we have yet to meet someone who has spoken the words – I think PowerPoint presentations are just the best!


Nonetheless, we strongly feel that the sentiments towards PowerPoint should more fittingly be directed at the presentation skills of the speaker, for they are the ones truly in control of the experience. PowerPoint is merely a tool – one that can be quite effective if used in collaboration with a powerful personal presence and solid delivery, interesting content, and the specific interests of the audience at its essence.


We believe the way in which PowerPoint is being used is the reason the world has started hating the program. In our post, 5 Ways Users Give PowerPoint Its Bad Rap, we detail what we think are the most important oversights people make when using the software. We then discuss what users can do to provide their audience with a much more memorable experience the next time a message needs to be conveyed.


We’d love to hear about your encounters with the software.


Have you found a way to use PowerPoint effectively?



The LV Linguistics team loves writing about anything to do with business culture and enjoys finding ways to use this to help readers improve their English skills. In addition to articles related to the corporate world, entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and more, we’re working hard to create and share English vocabulary and grammar exercises that we hope can help you to excel in your language endeavors.


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