Barack Obama, “Yes We Can”: A PowerPoint Deck

PowerPoint is a world of incomplete sentences, fragmented thoughts, unemotional, dispassionate, and semantically-empty byte-size blob of consultant-speak.

Okay — maybe that tone is too strong but, generally, PowerPoint is not the most effective medium of communication.  I think most people would agree with that.  There are ways to communicate and effective ways of creating an atmosphere of discussion and debate with PowerPoint, but most people don’t use PowerPoint for that purpose.  It’s unfortunate.

I’ve written about this before — how Bezos doesn’t allow PowerPoint in meetings with him and considers gratuitous clipart  to be anathema, and how Edward Tufte argues strongly and effectively against PowerPoint.

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Imagine putting some of the world’s most moving and inspiring speeches in PowerPoint format.   Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if Martin Luther King’s “Freedom” or “I have a Dream” or “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was a PowerPoint deck?  What about the United States Constitution as a PowerPoint deck?  Or, Winston Churchill’s famous “Never, Never, Never Give Up” speech as a PowerPoint deck?  Or, General Douglas Macarthur’s famous “Build Me a Son” prayer as a PowerPoint deck?

Well, one of the more recent and highly acclaimed and inspiring speeches in modern day is the “Yes We Can” speech by Barack Obama.  It is an amazing and inspiring speech.  To test my hypothesis that PowerPoint as an information medium isn’t the best, I decided to completely do Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” speech injustice by putting it into PowerPoint format.

Below is the “Deck” and, as you’ll see, the PowerPoint version completely strips the speech of any life, emotion, inspiration, and meaning; in other words, PowerPoint is doing what it does well.  Here is a link to the video speech (I strongly urge you to watch this) and you can find the free-text transcript of the Barack Obama “Yes We Can” speech here.

[button link="http://www.shmula.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/barack-obama-yes-we-can-the-power-point-deck-abilla.ppt" color="default" shape="rounded" size="small" align="center"]Download Obama Powerpoint Deck[/button]

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Comments

  1. Ron Pereira says

    Actually, PowerPoint is not the problem. It is an excellent application. The problem is the way people use it. People like Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki can work wonders with PPT.

    I recommend the book “Presentation Zen” to anyone wanting to learn how to use PowerPoint properly.

  2. jt says

    The speech is actually called “A more perfect union.”

    Speeches aren’t meant to be translated into powerpoint as powerpoint, as a medium, isn’t meant for motivational, nuanced monologues – it’s meant for informative/business presentations.

    Criticizing powerpoint’s ability to capture a truly amazing speech is like calling French a poor language because English speakers can’t understand it.

    Different modes of communication exist and its wortwhile to understand that they differ. If Obama had given that speech to a board room full of executives looking to get V.C. funding, he’d have failed. But that wasn’t his purpose, so he didn’t use powerpoint.

  3. psabilla says

    Hi JT,

    Thanks very much for your comment.

    A few things:

    1) You’re wrong on “A More Perfect Union”, which is the speech he recently gave in response to the Reverend Wright controversy. The speech that I transformed to powerpoint is different from what you are claiming it is called.

    2) At the end of the day, we’re talking about *meaning* and *connecting* and *communicating*, which are principles that hold true whether your audience is a group of executives in a board room, a large crowd in a rally, or anywhere else.

    3) I’m not the only one making this criticism against powerpoint — Edward Tufte, Peter Norvig (Google), and many others have made this criticism.

    Thank you for reading, JT. I appreciate your comment.

  4. jt says

    My work computer won’t load youtube (wonder why), so I just figured given the date of the post. Sorry about the mix up. :)

    I never assumed you were the only one, but that doesn’t change my opinion (nor does it lend credence to your own). There are many powerful people who swear by powerpoint, and many who don’t.

    Your second point is fascinating and something I’d into which I’d like to delve.
    The way I parse your statement is that the goal of any presentation, rally or board room, is communication with your intended audience.
    I agree, my point was solely that the means by which you communicate varies from audience to audience, and to expect powerpoint, a tool designed for use with one specific set of audiences, to apply to all audiences isn’t fair.

    A political speech, a rally, or any setting in which you are addressing what equates to a crowd is meant to draw out an affective response from the audience – powerpoint isn’t meant to do that.
    There is no emotional response to a powerpoint slide, and so yes, it fails as a tool of accessing affect.
    But, does the meaning of a business presentation really lie in our ability to manipulate emotional responses?

    I’ve been reading the blog for quite some time, I really enjoy it. You have wonderful insights into many areas.

  5. jt says

    It is, however, completely valid to view powerpoint as utterly worthless in all situations.
    I just don’t think that its failure to capture presentations meant to evoke affective responses really demonstrates its many failures as a medium (as funny as the examples are).

  6. psabilla says

    @JT,

    Again, wonderful comments and I appreciate your input. Thank you very much.

    Garr Reynolds, of PresentationZen fame, linked to this article and the comments there are very instructive; I think you’d enjoy what he had to say and what his readers are saying too.

    Have you read Tufte’s manifesto against PowerPoint? I think someone, creatively, created a PowerPoint version of his manifesto — in jest. Very funny.

  7. Jimbo says

    PowerPoint is a tool used to convey knowledge and information.
    Speeches such as those used by politicians are used to motivate.

    People like Steve Jobs can use PowerPoint to deliver a speech and motivate.

  8. Jason says

    Inspired by this post, I made a resolution to not use PPT in all of 2009. My goals were both external and internal. Externally, I wanted my audiences to be more engaged…to actually listen and think instead of speedreading some bullet points and tuning out till the next slide. Internally, I wanted to challenge my own presentation skills in an environment free of crutches.

    Like most resolutions, this one didn’t stick. I actually have clients who require PPT. But here’s what I did, and I was very pleased.

    None of my slides had bulleted lists, and most had no words at all. The slides were simply visual aids–what I suspect PPT was designed to supply in the first place. So a typical slide as a graph of something or a cartoon. The visuals forced the audience to participate at least cognitively (e.g., “What’s he gonna say about this? What do tomatoes have to do with lean publishing?”). What I saw was an attentive crowd, some great thoughtful questions, and a number of compliments I don’t normally get.

    I encourage others to do the same. PPT = Visual Aids. PPT does not equal “the presentation.”

  9. Dan says

    Hi,

    Great post, but the link for the video speech seems to be wrong.

    Where you said “Here is a link to the video speech (I strongly urge you to watch this)” the URL points to a concession speech after the New Hampshire primary. I found a better link for the South Carolina speech is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iVAPH_EcmQ

    Maybe someone hacked your site.

    Dan

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