PowerPoint Considered Harmful

I’m starting to notice a trend away from PowerPoint presentations. I was recently at XP Day in Montreal and there was very little slideware.

Laurent Bossavit delivered a wonderful keynote without any PowerPoint slides. Laurent’s theme was We Do Things Differently Here. He spoke of cultural differences as a barrier between Customers and Developers that should not be underestimated. Laurent is from France and he delivered his keynote mostly in French, which made this notion of cultural differences extremely vivid: some attendees spoke no French while some like me have a reasonable understanding of French. Laurent quoted Gerry Weinberg as stating that We connect through sameness and grow from our differences.

J.B. Rainsberger delivered an analysis of Extreme Programming motivated by parallels between software development and Eli Goldratt’s formula for success in manufacturing. The format of the presentation required the audience to use the Theory of Constraints to collaboratively construct a system diagram on a whiteboard?there were no PowerPoint slides.

Michael Feathers presentation asked API Designers to consider testing from the point of view of the users of their APIs. It is not enough that the APIs themselves are tested: code that is written to use the APIs must be testable. As motivation Michael showed us how hard it is to write testable code that makes use of the Java Mail API. The Java Mail API uses static factory methods and final classes that prevent mockability. There is also no easy way to turn off the behaviour that sends actual emails. Michael used few slides because a large part of the presentation was worked examples in Eclipse.

This year my daughter has decided to homeschool and I’m always on the lookout for interesting Mathematics and Science material on the Internet. I found some gold on a recent search when I came across some archived lectures delivered by Richard Feynman where the only supporting technology is a blackboard and chalk.

Edward Tufte has written something of a polemic called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. There are several pages on his site where he discusses the difficulty of presenting complex ideas with PowerPoint. Edward Tufte has even managed to start a memethat implicates PowerPoint in the shuttle disaster.

There is going to be another XP Day in Toronto in the spring of 2007. You should consider going. I plan to do so. I wonder how many presentations I will be seeing that make extensive use of PowerPoint?

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