Edward Tufte’s diatribe against Power Point is justly famous. Today I found Ian Parker’s thoughtful look at Power Point and how it has changed business communication. He mentions a surprising bit of research from my favorite social psychologist, Robert Cialdini. (By the way, his book Influence is really amazing. All the cool people are reading it).
Last year, three researchers at Arizona State University, including Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology and the author of “Influence: Science and Practice,” conducted an experiment in which they presented three groups of volunteers with information about Andrew, a fictional high-school student under consideration for a university football scholarship. One group was given Andrew’s football statistics typed on a piece of paper. The second group was shown bar graphs. Those in the third group were given a PowerPoint presentation, in which animated bar graphs grew before their eyes.
Given Andrew’s record, what kind of prospect was he? According to Cialdini, when Andrew was PowerPointed, viewers saw him as a greater potential asset to the football team. The first group rated Andrew four and a half on a scale of one to seven; the second rated him five; and the PowerPoint group rated him six. PowerPoint gave him power. The experiment was repeated, with three groups of sports fans that were accustomed to digesting sports statistics; this time, the first two groups gave Andrew the same rating. But the group that saw the PowerPoint presentation still couldn’t resist it. Again, Andrew got a six. PowerPoint seems to be a way for organizations to turn expensive, expert decision-makers into novice decision-makers. “It’s frightening,” Cialdini says. He always preferred to use slides when he spoke to business groups, but one high-tech company recently hinted that his authority suffered as a result. “They said, ‘You know what, Bob? You’ve got to get into PowerPoint, otherwise people aren’t going to respond.’ So I made the transfer.”
On another note, I really appreciate it when some Joe Blow transfers articles from established publications to their personal website.