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OFFBEAT

No power, no point

Powerpoint is poised to sound the death knell for my beloved old-school overhead projector - the point of which still eludes me

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(Powerpoint) is blamed for the gradual decline (and eventual demise) of OHPs, as classrooms and businesses turned towards higher-tech presentation aids.

WHEN I was student in the 1990s, there was one piece of classroom equipment I loved more than anything else: the OHP. Yes, I realise that's a strange thing to cherish - overhead projectors are, after all, utterly banal, extremely low-tech, and highly unsexy machines.

Still, I always lived for the moment a teacher would ask for the apparatus to be set up.

I loved it all: trundling the hunk of plastic out of the cupboard, rolling the screen down with a whoosh, turning the lamp on and going half-blind with the sudden brightness, fishing out a flimsy transparency sheet and feeling it warm up against the stage glass, watching the projected words swim in and out of focus with every minuscule turn of the adjustment knob…

Then there were the markers! Variegated not just in terms of colour (I was always partial to orange - not the most legible, but certainly the most cheery), but also in terms of performance. When opening a pack of four, for instance, were you going to draw a fresh marker with a nice and firm nib? Or were you going to get the dud that splays out as you write (because you know there's bound to be one in every pack)? Heck, I'll even admit I relished inhaling the heady marker fumes, toxicity be damned!

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Given my fanatical appreciation for OHPs, I suppose my aversion to PowerPoint would come as no surprise. The software is blamed for the gradual decline (and eventual demise) of OHPs, as classrooms and businesses turned towards higher-tech presentation aids.

(A slight digression for some surprising facts: I recently learnt that PowerPoint was originally called Presenter, and that this name was nixed due to trademark issues. Also, when it was launched in 1987, it was released for Mac computers only.)

Anyway, my loathing of PowerPoint doesn't just stem from its OHP-killer status; I also detest the software because of the uncountable dull meetings it has forced upon me. While there's no doubt that PowerPoint has facilitated smoother presentations, it has also ushered in an era of terribly uninspiring ones.

As a Guardian columnist wrote some years back: "Through PowerPoint, everything has a tendency to resemble a pitch rather than a discussion: information is "storyboarded", as for a movie - but the presentation is not a movie and the presenter is rarely Brad Pitt. No wonder we are bored."

If, at this point, you are having a tough time imagining a world sans PowerPoint, consider Amazon Inc, where the software has acquired pariah status thanks to founder Jeff Bezos.

In his 2018 letter to shareholders, Mr Bezos wrote: "We don't do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of 'study hall'."

This means all meetings at Amazon start with silence, where all staff - whether a C-suite executive, or an intern on his first day - pore over a pre-written memo.

Said Mr Bezos in an Inc interview earlier this year: "Just like high-school kids, executives will bluff their way through the meeting, as if they've read the memo… because we're busy. And so, you've got to actually carve out the time for the memo to get read - and that's what the first half hour of the meeting is for. And then everyone has actually read the memo, they're not just pretending to have read the memo." The result? A far more fruitful discussion as everyone is truly up to speed - and not just spewing half-baked ideas.

Bezos's renouncing of PowerPoint's bullet-point format is also rooted in the belief that humans are wired for narratives. Penning proper sentences, he believes, benefits both sides - the people listening to the presentation, as well as the person doing the presenting. "Full sentences are harder to write. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking," says Mr Bezos.

Sure, perhaps, that sounds didactic. But it's worth noting that Mr Bezos isn't the only luminary who eschews bullet points; Google's CEO, Sundar Pichai, prefers to tell stories with pictures and little to no text. Richard Branson and Elon Musk reportedly aren't fans of bulleted presentations, either.

Now, I concede that as a literature major and OHP lover, I'm probably pretty biased. But don't you think us PowerPoint haters have a, well, point?

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