Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Death By PowerPoint

One of the major reasons that I was not keen on working at another headquarters command was pounded home to me tonight.  I sat through a 1 1/2-hour meeting whose sole purpose was to fine-tune the PowerPoint slides that will be given to a general tomorrow night.

You read that right.  We had 17 people (not counting me) in a conference room.  All but four were military officers, most of them at the Lieutenant Colonel level, meaning around 15-22 years experience.  That's a lot of horsepower, especially when you remember that other lieutenant colonels not far from here are leading thousands of soldiers into combat at this very moment.  But instead of combat, these guys were focused on briefing slides.  Over forty slides, none of which were legible from more than five feet away.  Each one had two logos, one title, multiple boxes, arrows, color codes, bullet points, 4-point font, and enough words to fill a Danielle Steele novel.  I could read the titles and maybe a headline or two over the bullet points, but that was it.  Even if you could read the fine print, it would take you half an hour to figure out what the slide was supposed to tell you, because it was so full of acronyms, compressed phrases, and Afghan-specific jargon.

I know the general that this briefing is intended for.  He's the kind of guy who loves to dig down into a topic, ask lots of questions about details, find the obscure little byways of an idea, and gnaw at it until there's no life left at all ... in either the subject or the audience.  And what's really scary is that these guys tonight are giving him a huge variety of topics to play with.  It'll take him six or eight hours to go through them all.  And he'd have a ball doing it, too.  Non-stop.

Not me.  I'm afraid I'm going to be tied up in another meeting tomorrow night.  Even if I have to make one up.

PowerPoint has been the bane of military operations for many years.  There was a great article in the NY Times a year or so ago that addressed it.  I used PowerPoint back in my own military career, but it was nowhere near as all-encompassing, nor as crammed full of data, as these presentations are.

I may be an 82nd "Chairborne", but I'm not a PowerPoint Ranger.  I'd rather pull out my toenails with a rusty pair of pliers than sit through tomorrow night's briefing.


lorraine said...

So would I.

Anonymous said...

Why can't these folks get it through threir thick heads that slides are briefing POINTS to jog the memory. The entire King James Bible does not go on each slide! And if the briefers know their audience (in this case, the detailed oriented general), they should do everything they can to head off his many, many questions. Anticipate...short and sweet!