The ClientWise Blog

"PowerPoint makes us stupid!"

Posted by Chris Holman on Apr 30, 2010 11:22:00 AM


So says Gen. James N. Mattis, Joint Forces commander of the Marine Corps.

This quote is from a fun article in the NY Times this week, authored by Elisabeth Bumiller, entitled, "We have met the enemy and he is PowerPoint."

The gist of the article is that the pervasive use of PowerPoint in the military has reached dangerous levels. In fact, there are platoons of junior officers, known as PowerPoint Rangers, who do nothing but prepare PowerPoint slides for daily briefings that seem to accompany the quotidian realities of military life.

The backlash against PowerPoint stems from concerns that it: stifles discussion, critical thinking, and thoughtful decision-making. Says Gen. H.R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led a successful effort to secure the northern Iraq city of Tal Afar in 2005, "It's dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control. Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable."

Speaking of presentations, I want to thank OnlineUniversities.com for posting a remarkable compendium of 50 historical speeches, all posted on YouTube. Containing many of the well-known classics, e.g. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" and Sir Winston Churchill's "Finest Hour"...this article also links to some of the lesser-known but excellent speeches, e.g. Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture" and Steve Jobs' "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." (As a sobering counterpoint to the inspiration and soaring oratory of King and Churchill, the list also contains excerpts from speeches by Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler. The power of words cuts both ways.)

Spend some time listening to these master speakers. Quite moving. Good learning too!

Presentations, whether they include PowerPoint slides or not, are a critical component of a financial advisor’s arsenal. After listening to some of the best prose ever written, spend some time thinking about your own presentations, then ask yourself some serious coaching questions.

  • How are you currently using PowerPoint? Can your presentations be improved, so that your message is conveyed more clearly or more succinctly?
  • Does your speech match up to your PowerPoint slides, or do you tend to go off on tangents? Would it be helpful if you created some notes for yourself to keep you on track?
  • If you’re not comfortable giving a formal presentation or using PowerPoint slides with a client or prospect, spend some time practicing with someone you know. Become comfortable with the process, so your confidence shows through to your audience.

Remember, what you say is just as important as how you say it. PowerPoint shouldn’t make us stupid, and it certainly shouldn’t be the enemy. If you use the written and spoken word to your advantage, the “enemy” could just very well become your best friend.

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Topics: Communication