Death by PowerPoint

1987 saw such spectacular events as President Reagan undergoing prostate surgery, the debut of both Prozac and The Simpsons and the birth of Lil’ Bow-Wow. (Now grown up, he has dropped the diminutive from his name and prefers a more mature, more cultured moniker- Bow-Wow.) As remarkable as these things may be, that fateful year, twenty-five years ago, brought with it something much more life-altering than just the voice that would bring us classics like “Bounce with Me” and “Puppy Love.” (These are either semi-famous rap songs or jingles that belong on the type of CD that soccer moms play on an endless loop in their mini-vans as they shuttle their over-scheduled darlings from one enriching after-school activity to another. While Wikipedia tells me they fall into the first category, I find their titles to be deceptively aimed at young children. I think this may be the right direction for Glee to head in for their next “mash-up” episode.)

1987 brought us a new kind of slow, painful demise- Death by PowerPoint.

Before the late 80’s, office workers sitting at their desks, whiling away the hours until they could punch out  on the company clock and hop in their Pontiac Bonnevilles, could imagine their grisly ends coming through a variety of means. Maybe an assistant paper-pusher miscalculates the space needed when preparing packets for his boss’ meeting and ends up with a rusty staple embedded in his thumb, which without the proper tetanus shots, leads to lockjaw and eventual starvation. Maybe the secretary daydreams while filing endless manila folders in the gray metal cabinet that sits behind her desk and while her focus is elsewhere, she gets a doozy of a paper cut, which over time becomes infected and she dies, ranting like a crazy woman, from a high fever. Or maybe, just maybe, the bacteria built up on the office kitchen plates that everyone uses and rinses quickly, but never really washes well, end the middle management dreams of a bean counter or two.

All of these are plausible, yet uncommon, ways to perish at the office. Since 1987 though, PowerPoint has brought us a much more sinister possibility. Endless slides, often accompanied by a mercenary who reads each and every bullet point, have become a standard way for companies to cull their herds.

With a move to China on the horizon, and a lackluster desire to continue to study such an overwhelming language, I have finally been able to make the move to Con-Gen.  This is a general course given to all diplomats headed out on tours where they will deal with passports and visas.  It goes over policy and law and the realities of the implementation of those edicts. While the information is actually quite interesting, the presentation leaves something to be desired.

Friday, just my second day of the course, I sat through four and half hours of lecture.  In that amount of time, we covered 123 slides.  Now, I was an English teacher and math has never been my strong suit (I got a C in math in the 6th grade, which earned me a grounding and extra math homework every night until the next set of midterms were sent home), but I didn’t even have to bust out my computer’s calculator to determine we were running at about a slide every two minutes. Granted, some slides had cute clipart on them, which definitely helped me make connections between the legalese of government documents and what a rabbit at a visa window would look like, so I can’t complain too much.

PowerPoint is a wonderful application and has been refined significantly since its days of being called “Presenter,” but there are a few rules that all PowerPoint architects should keep in mind:

*Keep fonts and colors to a minimum (No one loves pretty and fluffy and fabulous more than I do, but if the font is so curly that I can’t decide whether or not I somehow ended up back in Chinese class, you should probably pass on it.)

*Avoid animation of most any kind (The gunshot-like lettering was always a favorite of my 8th graders.  Not only is it totally obnoxious to listen to each individual letter shoot its way on to the screen, but there is no way to comprehensibly  talk over it, so the entire audience is inflicted with a mild case of PTSD before you even begin to speak about each and every slide.)

*Keep your bullet points to a minimum (as demonstrated here, three is sufficient) and unless you are presenting to a group of inept third graders (which raises a whole different series of possible issues) there is no need to read the slides. Summarize, summarize, summarize!!

The 80’s were a glorious time. I distinctly remember being the proud owner of a bangin’ neon windbreaker, having an unfulfilled longing for Garbage Pail Kids trading cards (which were deemed a waste of money and “junk” by the keepers of the allowance) and tuning in weekly to watch Alf’s appetite for cats remain on an unwilling crash diet.  American culture is bigger (although not necessarily better) for that bedazzled era, but little from the penultimate decade of the century has endured and spread so pervasively as the PowerPoint program and the invisible scars many of us carry from a quarter century of painful presentations.