One of the favorite targets of those who like to point out silly, stupid and wasteful technologies is the venerable PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint presentations have been called redundant, pointless and even downright evil.
Its hard not to agree with these critics. After all, who hasnt had to sit through a long session of mind-numbing, slide-after-slide PowerPoint pabulum. Ive sat through PowerPoint presentations that have left me frustrated and angry—or actually asleep. And no amount of flying graphics and spinning text can make a boring presentation interesting.
But I wouldnt go so far as to call PowerPoint evil. As with most potential weapons, its level of malevolence is based on the hand behind the mouse (or, I guess, on top of the mouse).
PowerPoint slides can be a useful tool. As someone who has given his fair share of talks and presentations, slides serve as a useful outline, helping you stay on track, hit the key points you mean to cover and give the audience something else to look at besides you.
No, my problem isnt that PowerPoint presentations exist; its that we are all now saving them.
Across the world, storage systems at every company are filled with presentation after presentation, and most of these are now useless. Lets face it—as a historical or reference document, a PowerPoint presentation comes up pretty short, not even qualifying as the CliffsNotes equivalent of the actual presentation.
Have you ever tried to figure out what a meeting was about by looking at the presentation slides after the fact? Or have you ever seen a speaker at a conference and, after raving about the presentation to friends and colleagues, found these same friends and colleagues questioning what was so great about the talk after they looked at the boilerplate slides in conference materials?
The problem is that PowerPoint presentations save the talking points while the information worth saving is the actual talking. In any good meeting, all the valuable information is what is said in front of the slides, not whats saved on them.
Wouldnt it be great if, after attending a conference, you received actual transcripts from the presentations, instead of receiving a book or disk with a bunch of slide shows that, at best, only hint at the information from the show? A transcript would be something with actual value, and, from a storage perspective, a document of an entire talk is probably 10 to 20 times smaller than a PowerPoint presentation outlining the same talk.
Of course, converting talks and meetings to text requires some serious manual labor from good typists or a substantial outlay to a transcription firm. So how about a podcast of speakers and meetings? The person talking doesnt need to be encoded at high-quality levels, meaning that an MP3 of a meeting could still end up being half or even a third of the size of a PowerPoint presentation. A podcast is not quite as useful as a transcript, but its better than having mostly information-free PowerPoint slides.
Or, why not combine the two? Most remote-conferencing applications already include the capability to record a presentation or meeting and then to sync conversations to the presentation being shown so that someone looking at the presentation later hears what was being said while the slide was being shown.
Come to think of it, it is even possible to do this locally with PowerPoint in a meeting by hooking good microphones into the system delivering the slides, although the tools for doing this arent as intuitive as they could be. PowerPoint presentations already tend to be bloated, and adding audio will only make them worse. In addition to making presentation recording tools more seamless, vendors should work on compressing and streamlining the format for presentations.
Of course, all this assumes that what was said at the meeting is worth saving, which probably isnt the case for most meetings. Ideally, the best solution would be to save only the meetings and presentations worth saving. But given the reality of regulatory compliance, many companies will find themselves saving petabytes of meeting presentations.
If we have to save them, we might as well know what was actually said.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .