Monday, May 26, 2008

Bad PowerPoint: Rocketdyne Table Syndrome

How can you put your audience to sleep in less than five minutes? No problem! Just open your 50-minute technical presentation by showing a huge table lifted directly from the written version. Then spend the next four minutes pointing to and describing the contents of that table in excruciating detail. The engineer who committed this travesty 35 years ago retired long ago, but that event is burned forever into my memory.

I was projectionist for the opening evening session of an international conference at a mountain resort. Table 1 listed the detailed chemical composition (about fifteen columns) for each of about twenty different metal alloys. Only the presenter could read Table 1 from his viewpoint onstage close to the screen. The audience in the auditorium could not see anything. After less than two minutes they were both literally and figuratively in the dark. Their heads began to drop from a combination of jet lag and boredom. After five minutes most of the audience were fast asleep. Only some of them awakened when I turned the lights back on at the end of the presentation.

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