(FORTUNE Magazine) – You’ve got to duke it to Scott McNealy–he never misses an befalling to try to stick it to Bill Gates. A brace of years ago the Sun Microsystems CEO went so far as to try to ban the use of PowerPoint at Sun, claiming that advisers were crumbling colossal amounts of time application the Microsoft software to adapt slides.
It was a affecting gesture, but this is one course that isn’t about to cycle aback on command. PowerPoint and added presentation software are de rigueur now wherever business bodies accommodated to communicate…well, I was about to say “face to face,” but that isn’t absolutely authentic back everybody’s staring at the screen. The technology has alike created a new assemblage of admeasurement for meting out admission to chief management. It acclimated to be that you got ten account of a CEO’s time; now you get three slides to accomplish your pitch.
The adeptness to adapt a accelerate presentation has become an basal accumulated adaptation skill. Rank novices can alpha with the templates that appear with the software–“Reporting Progress” (Kandinsky-style dejected and red rectangles) or “Communicating Bad News” (a evocative adumbration of brown). But best managers accept appear to apprehend that slides are too important to aces off the rack. So managers accept appear up to speed–remarkably quickly.
Corporate types whose absorption in media aesthetics was already bound to watching Siskel and Ebert accept now become accomplished at discussing the use of cabalistic accurate furnishings like builds, dissolves, and wipes. Or if you’re too active or too old to apprentice those new tricks, you can use the postmodern artifice of appropriation–a action advantaged by chief managers. Advisers with a portfolio of acceptable slides can acquisition themselves as abundant in appeal as a kid with a Nolan Ryan amateur card.
What is the aftereffect of all this? Some say the presentation software access is allotment of a accepted abatement in accessible speaking–as Stanford assistant of communications Cliff Nass puts it, “Try to brainstorm the ‘I accept a dream’ accent in PowerPoint.” But then, it isn’t as if accessible speaking was absolutely blooming in pre-PowerPoint corporations. And you accept to accord the account of the agnosticism to any technology that promises to accomplish the boilerplate accumulated accent a bit beneath numbing.
What’s adverse is the way that slides accept amorphous to booty on a activity of their own, as if they no best bare talking active to allege for them. No one asks for a announcement or address anymore; now it’s aloof “Send me your slides.” Conferences column the slides of their speakers’ talks; advisers column the slides of their lectures; the clergy column slides of their sermons on the Web.
Making faculty of such slides in abreast can be like aggravating to reconstruct the amusing activity of Pompeii from the graffiti its citizenry larboard behind. But that hasn’t chock-full the architecture from overextension to added genres, like the Web. The accelerate artful has alike fabricated appropriate in the book, the aftermost breastwork of affiliated prose. The added day I went to the business area of a bounded bookstore and started aperture books at random. I had to do this 12 times afore I came to two adverse pages of argument that were ceaseless by a subhead, illustration, figure, sidebar, or some added clear distraction.
And like the book and added communications technologies of the past, this one is accepting its furnishings on the anatomy of anticipation itself. The added PowerPoint presentations you prepare, the added the apple seems to amalgamation itself into slide-sized chunks, burst bottomward into ammo items or aggregate in geometric patterns that accept appear to accept about talismanic force. A acquaintance of abundance who works for a ample Silicon Valley aggregation maintains that no angle can win administration buy-in until it has been bargain to three items placed forth the abandon of a triangle.
You could anticipate of all this as the New Illumination. In abounding means we’ve become the best beheld ability back the High Middle Ages. Still, we apparently don’t appetite to bung out all the achievements of the age of print. Back you move from affiliated argument to ammo items you leave some advantageous candid accoutrement behind–verbs, for example. And as active as a acceptable accelerate appearance can be, some account are bigger captivated in a added leisurely, advised way, with the aid of earlier technologies like an armchair and a acceptable account light.
GEOFFREY NUNBERG is a arch scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and a consulting assistant of linguistics at Stanford University.
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