Religion Magazine

Dearth by PowerPoint

By Richardl @richardlittleda

A cautionary tale

I frequently use PowerPoint when I teach. In a very visual age it can help the right brain people to stay engaged, and a savvy use of few words or a single arresting image can help the left brain ones too. Note the italics (which it might be hard to do on a slide from the back of a church). Much as I like to use PowerPoint, I do not use it as a matter of course. A speaker who cannot be interesting or captivating without it will never be either of those things with it. Not only that, but as Andrew Smith pointed out in an article yesterday, it may render both speaker and listener more than a little dull. He describes the software as ‘being relentlessly linear and encouraging short, affirmative, jargonesque assertions: arguments that are resolved, untroubled by shades of gray.‘ Click here to read the whole thing (not a bullet point in sight).

On Sunday evening I attended a church service where the preacher was an able theological thinker and an incisive church historian. With all that intellectual equipment he should have been more than equal to the task of tackling one of the more poetically disturbing events of the Old Testament – the prophet Isaiah’s terrifying encounter with a vision of God. In may ways he did just that. He analysed the vision and its implications – and went on to set out some of the implications for those who would dare to step up as servants of God. Dad to say, though, that his effort was considerably undermined by…PowerPoint. The slides bore a set of thought-provoking images which seemed to bear little relation to the subject matter, pedestrian descriptions of his main points, and were changed at random moments which bore little relation to the progress of his argument. In other words – they undermined him.

In his book The End Of Words published 7 years ago, Richard Lischer raised precisely some of these issues. He even asked what Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech might have looked like as a PowerPoint presentation. I have only just noticed that the book is a write-up of Lischer’s lectures. I may be wrong – but I suspect they were lectures without PowerPoint. CLICK for the whole thing! CLICK for the whole thing!

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