There was a great article in the NY Times yesterday, titled We Have Met The Enemy, and He Is PowerPoint. It recaps all the familiar criticisms of bad briefing charts - they're too complex, too simplistic, too confusing, too obtuse... Regular readers may recall a little film noir spoof I wrote titled Death By Bullets, which was my own little salvo in the war against bad PowerPoint.
But as they say, it is a poor workman who blames his tools, and I've long believed that Microsoft's presentation software isn't the problem (although the default template settings they use are inexcusable). But the truth is, all those terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad briefings out there do not represent a software problem. They don't represent a technology problem. For that matter, they don't even represent a communication problem.
Ladies and gentlemen, bad briefings are a leadership problem and a thinking problem.
Senior leaders should never accept an endless parade of dense, impossible-to-read charts. They should refuse to sit through briefings like that. But not only do they receive and accept such briefings, they deliver them too. It makes me crazy to think about it.
Nobody likes that approach. Nobody thinks it's effective. And apparently nobody thinks there's an alternative.
Thank goodness for rare leaders like Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations according to the aforementioned article. Now, I think he would have been better off banning BAD PowerPoint, but it's a start.
Look, it's possible to create a clear, coherent, cogent presentation using just about any type of software (Apple's KeyNote can be just as bad as PPT). It just requires a little extra thought, a little creativity and a little practice.
A little study wouldn't hurt either. Do your homework. Learn how to give a good presentation. I recommend starting with Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen and watching some of the TED presentations.
Good luck, and remember the #1 rule of PowerPoint: First, Do No Harm.