Does PowerPoint make us stupid? I have 4 bullet points on that….

There have been several critiques of PowerPoint over the years (one of my favorites, here, is a PPT summary of the Gettysburg Address). But the program remains among the most commonly used tools for disseminating information in health and medicine.

An interesting piece in today's NY Times discusses the military’s increasing use of PowerPoint, and the accompanying backlash. A good summary quote, here:

“[PowerPoint is] dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said…..“Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

I agree that using PowerPoint can be detrimental when the objective of an interaction is to spur action or implementation….as it tends to convert the audience to passive recipients of neatly packaged information, rather than active participants and problem solvers. For example, if you are presenting plans for bloodstream infection prevention to your ICU staff, one of your slides might contain bullet points recommending “culture change” and “administrative engagement”. What does that mean?

On the other hand, if your purpose is to escort your audience into the 9th circle of “PowerPoint hell”, then go for it!

"Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”


  1. In his book, Beautiful Evidence, Edward Tufte has an entire chapter on his hatred of PowerPoint, which he claims was responsible for one of the space shuttle disasters. It's highly entertaining to read and he makes some good points. I gave a talk this week without PowerPoint using a new presentation software called Prezi in which you write out your talk on one large canvas. It has some very cool features, but unfortunately does not have some of the functionalities of PowerPoint.


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