Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kingdaddy at Arms and Influence had an excellent post "Death by Powerpoint" that castigated the use and abuse of powerpoint presentations in war planning ( Hat Tip to J. at Armchair Generalist). Here is the main point:

"You can't blame the problems of the occupation of Iraq on some unnamed functionary who couldn't use PowerPoint effectively. The problem was using PowerPoint at all. Anyone experienced with this tool could explain the obvious deficiencies, when used as a replacement for planning documents:

*PowerPoint slides are talking points, not the conversation itself. PowerPoint slides are supposed to help organize and illustrate what the speaker is saying. They are not, however, the complete communication. Therefore…

*PowerPoint slides are not self-evident. Since slides provide the mere skeleton of an argument, not its actual content, people who have read the slides but not heard the presentation normally cannot figure out what the speaker is trying to say.

*PowerPoint slides always change. Anyone who has had to present the same information multiple times usually varies the content. William Jennings Bryan constantly revised his famous Cross of Gold speech, refining it with every iteration. Every speaker gets tired of using the same words and intonation, so for sheer novelty value, the content will change.

*PowerPoint compels the most superficial reconsideration of your own position. While PowerPoint forces you to organize your thoughts to some degree, it does not ignite a reconsideration of your own argument the way a written document does. PowerPoint provides a thumbnail sketch of what you might say; written documents make you actually say it. Not surprisingly, authors of written documents find themselves altering their opinions as they write. For example, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, in writing the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, found his position changing as he wrote his opinion. "

(Brownie points to Kingdaddy for referencing The Cross of Gold speech in a post on DoD practices in 2006)

I have to say, I'm startled at the idea that operational planning for the invasion of Iraq, as opposed to briefing civilian officials about the operational plan, was done via powerpoint slides. I can't really see D-Day commencing with Eisenhower and Bradley arguing over to whom they should delegate the awesome responsibility of using the laser pointer.

Myself, I frequently use powerpoint when I lecture, though I hasten to point out that, while on occasion, I might be lecturing about a battle, I am not conducting one. About 6-8 slides I find is appropriate for an hour's worth of talk, including a dramatic "cover" or "conclusion" slide. The visual is there to reinforce the concepts and expand upon them from another direction, not to echo them verbatim.

Though I am partial to Dr. Barnett's brief and the wild, open-source, experience of tdaxp , some of the best ppt slides -in terms of being economical and clear - can be found at DNI, posted by Dr. Chet Richards.



Having been in several planning staffs for the last ten years, I don't think PP is the problem at all. Planning requires that you have to convey a LOT of information to different units in a concise and usable way. A brief might include some text (mostly bullets...but you can use the notes feature to expand on your points), imagery, maps, photos of suspects, graphics, weapon system video (WSV). Sometimes you have to brief via video teleconference (VTC) to people back in the US or downrange however the case might be. I don't know of any other program other than PP (widely used) that you can use to present this multimedia "productions". A Word document is just not usable when you are doing a step brief a planning or a coordination brief. Most smart officers know not to use PP as a crutch. For the most part, the PP presentation is an addendum to your text form FRAGO, ATO or other types of order. PP is no substitute for actually talking to your players either face-to-face or on the horn. Tom Barnett's briefs are outstanding, but they are very broad informative/entertainment slides. Planning slides go into more detail and are not as "cute" or "clever" (depending on the audience and stage of the op). Some higher HQ staffs actually require very strict standardization which is kind of a pain in the ass but that's what staff work is all about. I love Dan's slides. You said it yourself: "The visual is there to reinforce the concepts and expand upon them from another direction, not to echo them verbatim." One rule of thumb is "Don't read the slide to your audience unless you absoulutely have to...Expand on your on the visuals". PowerPoint is not the problem.
Hey Sonny,

You should append these remarks, as I know you have the professional experience, to Kingdaddy's site. He'd probably value the feedback ( as do I ).
Thanks Mark, I posted a version of my comments on Kingdaddy's site. Might be a good post for the SWC too, if it's not already there. Take care.
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
True story, although I expect I have the details garbled:

a prominent academic was presenting in front of Pentagon staff members some years ago. He had all his Powerpoint slides running and someone in the audience eventually shouted something to the effect of "We know how to read!"
"We know how to read!"

Ouch !

Better than rotten eggs and tomatos but not by much. I've heard that audience feedback can be brutal in the Pentagon if you don't have all the i's dotted and t's crossed.
I meant to write "Don't read the slide to your audience unless you absoulutely have to...Expand on your visuals" I wrote my initial comment after a long day. Anyway, you have to a) know your audience and b) know your subject. I've only briefed at the Pentagon once (which is enough for me) and I did not get hammered as bad. I was asking for money too, so I was expecting a semi-hostile audience, but they were relatively nice. It depends who and what office you brief I guess. The Pentagon is a huge building and there's all sort of types. The "we know how to read" situation happens pretty much every day throughout DOD (CONUS and overseas); people just don't voice it as much, but facial expressions (and snores) speak volumes.
Gracias Phil - I knew there was a Tufte article on this out there somewhere
PowerPoint printouts used for communicating battle plans?
Post a Comment

<< Home
Zenpundit - a NEWSMAGAZINE and JOURNAL of scholarly opinion.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

Determined Designs Web Solutions Lijit Search
02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 / 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 / 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 / 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 / 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 /

follow zenpundit at http://twitter.com
This plugin requires Adobe Flash 9.
Get this widget!
Sphere Featured Blogs Powered by Blogger StatisfyZenpundit

Site Feed Who Links Here
Buzztracker daily image Blogroll Me!