Okay, it's not going to win me any popularity points, but I thought I'd take a look at the fairly standard Powerpoint bashing that takes place. This article features John Sweller, saying that Powerpoint is counter productive because, according to his cognitive load theory, it is more difficult to process information that is coming audibly and visually simultaneously. Garr Reynolds (via Downes) picks up on this, and makes the distinction between Powerpoint as method and as a tool, arguing:
I know it is common to complain of death by powerpoint, and I have sat through enough dull, bullet-listed, tiny fonted, montonously delivered presentations to make watching the entire DVD box set of Sex and the City seem like an interesting alternative. But, I want to know what these complaints are measuring against? Did I miss some public-speaking Camelot, when every lecture was given with such insight, focus and wit as to make it seem like an evening with Peter Ustinov? As I recall my (pre-Powerpoint) university lectures they were largely dull, mostly incoherent and almost deliberately lacking in humour.
The complaints about Powerpoint often come from people who are good public speakers. This is just not the case for most of us. Sure, we can make improvements (I'll return to this), but in the same way many people are not gifted comedians, or actors, most people are not talented orators. I am to public speaking what George W Bush is to free form jazz - it's just not my thing.
But, Powerpoint saves me here - by using Powerpoint (and I'm using Powerpoint as a shorthand for all presentation software, I accept that Keynote is a nicer tool), I can structure, practice and improve my presentation skills. Yes, it's a crutch, but if you need help walking, crutches are good. Powerpoint provides a framework for developing presentation skills. Over the past couple of years I have abandoned bulleted lists, moved to use of images with one message per slide and greater use of (YouTube) videos. My presentations have improved (I think) as a result. I did this by thinking through not only how I could give better presentations in a general sense, but specifically, how I could improve my Powerpoint slides.
In this sense, Powerpoint is a valuable tool. Like any technology that democratises a skill, it means that most of what you get is poor, but it also allows a mechanism to explore and develop. After all, we don't complain that most of what gets written in blogs is rubbish, we accept that is the price we pay for mass democratisation. The difference with Powerpoint is that it is delivered to a captive audience, they can't look elsewhere.