Poor presentation

22 08 2012

Microsoft has done many great things – not least, they created a host of software so buggy and difficult to manage that they kept me in gainful employment as an IT technician for ten years or so. One thing I will always resent Mr Gates for is the creation of Powerpoint. It’s changed meetings forever, and not in a good way!

Death by PowerpointI’ve lost count of the number of seminars/conferences/dinner parties where the act of disemminating information and discussion seemed secondary; the speakers were more concerned with aligning their bullet points and using outdated transitions between slides. The best speakers use Powerpoint effectively by creating their slides to emphasise key points and illustrate selected ideas. Most of the presentations I receive are not like this. Instead I get a mishmash of photographs, charts and 44pt Arial bold text ending with a question mark.

As manager of a government website I get asked to publish presentations all the time. It would be easy to give in and accept these demands, to believe that there is a desire for such documents to be made available. I’ve heard all the arguments for publication: What about Freedom of Information? The attendees were promised the slides would be made available online. The table on slide 23 isn’t available anywhere else. These are not reasons to publish, not when the content hasn’t been designed for an online audience!

There is nothing illuminating about a bunch of slides converted into PDF or (even worse!) PPS format on a website without any additional contextual information. If someone goes to the trouble of creating an all-purpose presentation, including copyright information and captions for all images used, speaking notes, properly marked-up headings and accessible tables then I’ll be only too happy to publish it. Unfortunately, I suspect I could be waiting for a long time before I encounter such a document.

At the moment I can usually resist the demands for publication by referring my colleagues to the guidelines for web accessibility, but even then I still have to give in now and again. As a perfectionist I would love to eradicate them completely, but we don’t live in an ideal world…not yet!