In praise of PowerPoint: When a productivity product saves your butt

What happens when the software you hate to use finally gets updates that save your bacon right before a presentation? (Hate turns to love.)

PowerPoint Presenter

Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.

I’ve meant to write this for a while, but around two weeks ago, I was caught flat-footed needing to put together a presentation in little time for a live teleconference in front of a large virtual audience. I thought I was screwed; instead, PowerPoint’s new AI features saved me. 

When there is a product I must use – but hate using – and suddenly it changes so much that I reconsider my earlier views, I feel the need to share why.  One of the things you’re supposed to do as an analyst is constantly challenge your own positions. And, if the data requires it, you change the position so it is again consistent with the data.  Most people take a stand, and even if they find they’re wrong, feel they must defend it because changing their mind makes them look weak. (There is a certain amount of truth to that; it is covered by the term Argumentative Theory.)

But in my profession, where we are paid to give critical insights, providing advice we know to be wrong isn’t just unethical. It can and will get you fired (as it should). So, when my position changes, as it has  with PowerPoint, I own up to the shift. 

How PowerPoint saved me

What happened; I was invited to speak at a sizeable virtual event, BUT after a lot of back and forth, we never really concluded I was actually going to speak. Part of the problem is that this was for an Asian audience, and the time difference meant that generally, when I was awake, the event coordinator was asleep. I didn’t get a confirmation email until around 10 p.m. the night before I was due to talk – just as I was about to go to sleep. 

I don’t do a lot of presentations anymore, and I’m on record hating PowerPoint mainly because it can become a crutch. I’ve relied on it for decades, and it used to be challenging to use.  I woke up early, around an hour before I needed to turn the presentation in, thinking I was in deep trouble.

But the new automated features in PowerPoint were like a night-and-day improvement to the software  I’d come to know and hate; 30 minutes later, I was able to ship out my slides and begin to rehearse.  I did miss having a timer, and when someone else does your slides, some of the other new features in PowerPoint (like helping you with your pacing) aren’t available. 

Still, PowerPoint has now gone from one of my least favorite 365 components to my favorite, and I’m wondering what changes I’ll be looking forward to in the rest of Microsoft’s 365 offerings.  I can now picture a future with PowerPoint using speech-to-text, where you give a talk verbally, it creates and suggests modifications to the script, builds the slides (including relevant animations), and then helps you rehearse and practice your delivery.

PowerPoint isn’t there yet. But I see enough progress in that direction to get a relatively reliable view of what this product will become. 

Wrapping up

To reiterate, PowerPoint was something I grew to hate. But the last set of updates turned it into my favorite part of Microsoft 365. If this same kind of effort makes it to the other parts of this bundled offering, it will transform 365 into something entirely different –  perhaps even exciting.

I can recall when I first saw Microsoft Office. It was a game-changer and so much better than the mess of products I’d been using. Over time, however, it seemed to stagnate and didn’t advance much. If PowerPoint is any indicator, it’s now getting a ton of love, and that attention is making parts of it – PowerPoint in particular – exciting again.  I’m seriously hoping this isn’t a one-off, and what Microsoft’s developers are doing with PowerPoint spreads to both Word and Outlook. Both could also use some revolutionary updating. 

I’ll leave you with this. I can recall one of the biggest complaints I’d hear from those working with former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was that he would make changes to his presentations right up to when he gave them – driving those who prepared those presentations crazy. With this in hand, he could have made all the late tweaks and updates himself, easing the stress on his staff. 

I can picture one of these folks saying, “Oh sure, now, they fix PowerPoint.” 

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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