Science, Awe and PowerPoint


Sunday night I went to a fascinating event: a presentation called “Awesome” about the intersection of science, beauty and magic. It’s part of an ongoing series called Categorically Not! put on by L.A. Times science writer K.C. Cole. The speakers were quite a collection:

  • Curator and historian Daniel Lewis whose award winning exhibit “Beautiful Science” showcases scientific ideas that changed the world.
  • Art Benjamin, professor at Harvey Mudd College and mathemagician extraordinaire, who blew us away with feats of mental calculation that seemed like sheer magic to us mere mortals. And…
  • Adam Frank, astrophysicist at the University of Rochester, who talked about the common ground between science and spirit. He explores the subject in his new book, The Constant Fire: Beyond the Science vs. Religion Debate, which Publishers Weekly praises as “light years beyond the stale standoff between uninspired scientific materialism and unscientific intelligent design.” Frank talked about the experience of spiritual awe that’s embodied in the magnificent photos taken by the Hubble telescope, and in discovering the tiny, elegant structures of the simplest creatures in nature.

Frank is a powerful, passionate speaker who loves his subject and who truly understands how to engage an audience. And like so many presenters, he used PowerPoint in a way that undermined his presentation, distracted his audience and made me want to run screaming from the room.

I cringed as the bullet points built up and overflowed on slide after slide. Gorgeous, dramatic visuals were reduced to afterthoughts in the corner of the frame. Powerful quotes were buried with other dense information that ensured they would be lost in the clutter of the space/time continuum.

I felt so bad for Mr. Frank, who deserved so much better, that I sent him a few links to some great info about strengthening your presentations and knocking your audience’s socks off. I thought I’d post them here, too.

Merlin Mann has a classic, simple overview here on 43Folders.com.

Guy Kawasaki, who as a venture capitalist has sat through more bad PowerPoint presentations than the rest of us will see in a lifetime, shares his 10/20/30 rule here.

Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen blog has some helpful info here and all over the rest of his blog.

Though I’m pretty positive he actually uses Keynote, Steve Jobs is just brilliant at this stuff. Watch any of his presentations if you want to see a master in action.

PowerPoint: Whose speech will it kill next? Hopefully not yours.


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One thought on “Science, Awe and PowerPoint

  1. Thank you for mentioning Garr in your post. I work for Peachpit Press and thought you and your readers might be interested in knowing that he just released his first online streaming video, Presentation Zen: The Video, where he expands on the ideas presented in his book and blog. More info can be found here:

    http://tr.im/lFvO

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