Re: PowerPoint considered harmful (was Re: Barely literate minutes)

John C Klensin <> Sun, 02 December 2012 14:45 UTC

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Date: Sun, 02 Dec 2012 09:45:04 -0500
From: John C Klensin <>
To: Keith Moore <>, Brian E Carpenter <>
Subject: Re: PowerPoint considered harmful (was Re: Barely literate minutes)
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--On Sunday, December 02, 2012 08:40 -0500 Keith Moore
<> wrote:

> I have no objection to using PPT to display diagrams or lists
> of open issues.  And I understand that PPT can be of aid to
> those (including me) who have trouble with understanding the
> diverse ways that English is spoken.
> But I still maintain that there's something about PPT and
> similar tools that tend to degrade interaction rather than
> facilitate it, and that this is tremendously damaging to the
> way IETF working groups conduct their face-to-face sessions.

Part of that, as both Randy's indirectly pointed out, is that we
lost something going from overhead projector transparencies to
PowerPoint (or PDF decks, etc.).  The former could be used to
facilitate a discussion by combining the best features of
previously-prepared outlines, diagrams, agendas, etc., with with
ability to for a speaker or chair mark up slides, or make new
ones, in real time.  By contrast, PowerPoint and those
projectors mostly permit only the "go forward" and "go back"

> For example, PPT is much better at conveying short, bulleted
> lists than diagrams.   It's tedious to draw diagrams with PPT,
> and I suspect, with most similar tools.  Most computers still
> have keyboards which are good for inputing text, but most
> computers don't have an input stylus for drawing.  And it's
> much more time consuming to draw adequate drawings with a
> mouse or trackpad than to draw them on acetate with a pen.

Yes.  But I am less concerned about how long it takes to prepare
a presentation than I am about what goes on during the meeting
discussion.  If the diagrams are going into a PowerPoint
package, there is always the "draw with pencil, scan, and insert
into deck" possibility.

> Also, there's something about PPT that seems to encourage
> speakers to attempt to capture everything that's possibly
> relevant to a topic, and thus, to fill up all available time,
> leaving none for discussion.

I think the same could be said for any outline that is prepared
before a meeting and made available to the audience.  Speakers
have to understand what they are (or should be) trying to do,
why the purpose of their presentations is (almost always) to
frame and stimulate discussion and not just to show the
speaker's mastery of the subject matter (and WG Chairs and
others need to reinforce that understanding).

> If we want to work effectively, we must not let our work
> habits be dictated by newer technology, especially when older
> and simpler technology works better.   If slide projectors,
> sheets of acetate, and appropriate pens are no longer readily
> available, perhaps we need to ship large dry-erase boards and
> markers for those to every meeting.

They are still available.  Having dragged my own flip chart
easel (in a bag and checked as baggage) to a few meetings in
ancient times, I imagine all surviving ones of of those aren't
in museums either.  But rigs for cameras that are set up to be
pointed down onto sheets of paper on which drawings and notes
are being made are a lot more compact, compatible with the
projectors we are using already, and, like overhead
transparencies and PowerPoint-like decks, leave traces that can
easily be incorporated into minutes -- something that is less
feasible with any whiteboard technology we'd be likely to be
able to drag around.