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PowerPoint: Less is More

On the interview trail for an emergency medicine residency spot, I was hit with a cold realization. My three blissful years of law school are coming to an end. It's time to go back to the world of medicine, and this means returning to an arena in which virtually every formal presentation is likely to be accompanied by PowerPoint slides.

I'm yawning with anticipation.

At the University of Michigan Law School, professors lecture with all the lights on, and they almost never use PowerPoint. This might surprise all those academic physicians out there who don't think it's possible to convey information without dimming the lights and firing up the projector. Dispite what many doctors seem to think, PowerPoint is not a required teaching tool. My roughly 400 or so classmates who've learned a lot of law over the past three years can all testify to that.

Lawyers do, occasionally, use PowerPoint in the courtroom. But the good ones don't let PowerPoint use them. TaxProfBlog has a post about how trial lawyer W. Mark Lanier -- the guy who persuaded a Texas jury to award his client $252 million in Vioxx suit against Merck -- hired a guy named Cliff Atkinson to help him with his PowerPoint slides. Atkinson is trying to do something about what he calls "PowerPoint fatigue" and TaxProf calls "the deadening sameness of Microsoft Corp.'s commonly used presentation software." This kind of language should rings a bell for a lot of emergency physicians and residents out there (for my sake).

My only worry is that Atkinson might not be quite radical enough. Sure, he talks a tough game. On page 14 of his 5 ways to reduce powerpoint overload (pdf), Atkinson says:

When you think you’re impressing people by putting everything you know on your PowerPoint slide, you’re actually doing the opposite by shutting down their cognitive processing. And when people are sitting there bored, they’re likely not thinking positive thoughts. When it comes to PowerPoint, less is more. . . ." (Emphasis mine.)
Atkinson is absolutely right, which is why I wish he'd gone on to say, "hey, do you ever think of just getting up and talking? Without any PowerPoint at all?" But I suppose that wouldn't be great for his consulting business' bottom line. Even though he says that less PowerPoint is more, Atkinson doesn't actually advise us to use less PowerPoint. And that's kind of sad and wimpy.


It could be worse. It could be the overhead projector. Do you remember the overhead projector? Transparencies? My Gahd it was atrocious.

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