Wednesday, January 6, 2010

World's worst slides award goes to...

My interest in this topic stemmed from a tweet posted by Garr Reynolds @presentationzen: “Holy what’s the plan in Afghanistan, Batman!” Does this PowerPoint clear things up? h/t @Durf


We have all seen our fair share of bad presentations, if you have not yet been subjected to many bad presentations then you are privileged individual indeed, just don’t expect it to last.

In reality, although bad presentations might put us to sleep, waste our time and be totally ineffective all they really do at worst is waste our resources – be they time or money – but hey at least it’s not a case of life or death, people still leave the boardroom alive, bored… but alive.

If a presentation were to be dealing with a topic sufficiently important that it could potentially result in the life or death of numerous individuals you would surely expect that the presenter would want to ensure that the slides used got the information across in the most effective, understandable and memorable way possible… right?

Well, it would seem that not everybody thinks like that. In the past few years a number of internal presentations from the United States Army have been leaked into the public domain and my god are they bad. These slideshows do not just exhibit the normal levels of incompetence that we have come to know and… love, but instead take powerpoint (and audience) abuse to whole new levels.

Take for example the slide below, there is a message there somewhere in the slide, really there is… but the chance of every member of the audience achieving an understanding of this message by the time the presenter has moved on to the next slide is surely as close to zero as you can get.

Exhibit 2 (below) is – although you might have thought it impossible – even more ridiculous than the first. I understand where the presenter is coming from though, I believe I used to draw diagrams like that when I was younger. I would sit at the kitchen table with a box of crayons and a juice box and just keep drawing swirls around the page at random, however at that time I was 2 years old… and I wasn’t trying to run an army engaged in a war.

Now while I make fun of these very poor powerpoint slides, there is a serious point to be made, if your audience can’t understand the message you are trying to tell them, you need to change the way you are telling them. These US Army slides are so ineffective that I find it hard to believe that they are any use to anyone whatsoever, and although the issues they are dealing with are undoubtedly complicated they still need to be communicated well. Perhaps they should all sit down together, watch this talk by Hans Rosling and read some books by Edward Tufte to get a crash course on how to communicate complex information.

Originally posted at my company blog @

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