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The fan of the overhead projector whizzed as the lights dimmed. The acetates were first dropped, then placed either upside down or back to front, or written on by the shaking hand of the quivering voiced junior doctor. Senior doctors had access to the medical illustration department and so had “professional slides”; they marched confidently up the steps with a carousel of slides, only to be crushed as these were duly dropped or placed upside down or, most commonly, got stuck, often at a cringe-making “funny” slide that filled the lecture theatre with strangled laughter. The lecture based undergraduate curriculum involved skipping as many lectures as possible and dozing through the hypnotic dullness of the rest.
But in the darkness of a postgraduate lecture in the summer of 1995 the earth shook and I awoke from my hypnagogia. Whirling text, typewriter effect, chequerboard changes, animation, a galaxy of graphs—a meteorite called PowerPoint had smashed into planet Presentation. Overnight the dinosaurs that once terrorised doctors—the overhead and slide projectors—died out. When their remains are stumbled across in some dusty hospital store cupboard, young doctors attempt to piece together what they might have been used for—some funky psychedelic 1970s lamps, perhaps?
I have no memory of the content of this lecture for I was possessed by the special effects. Entranced, I experimented recreationally, changing founts then twirling, zooming, and screeching them to a halt. Clapping, maniacal laughter—and words walked on screen and bowed. It was like university again, when crowds had gathered to watch me play the “Rolling Thunder” arcade game—I was an expert. I developed a range of five-minute PowerPoint presentations on common topics like contraception that automatically rolled to my disembodied voiceover. Imaginatively I called them “PowerConsults.” Patients seemed amused, but mainly they were bemused.
My change of heart began when lectures became increasingly complex and bloated—50 flaming slides all regrettably available to download off the web. My toes curled at homogeneous and ubiquitous clip art—and the “funny” slide unfortunately never got stuck. Worse still, dreadful and weak material was concealed by the whiz-bang of presentation special effects. PowerPoint our saviour was in reality a tyranny of tedium, mere style over substance. The great art of presentation lost.
Now freed from the PowerPoint spell I stand in the glare of the lights with only a flip chart, eyeballing my audience. Some performances are good, some bad, and some great, but above all there is real communication. So down with PowerPoint—let the “power” be the passion that shines in your eyes—the “point” those three themes that constitute any argument that you will defend to the last.