The Rapid Elearning Blog

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - Government creates bad PowerPoint via Edward Tufte

It may come as a surprise to you, but there are many people who think that PowerPoint sucks. I know; I know. I was surprised, as well.

The other day Mashable featured some Edward Tufte tweets where he blasted the slides from a secret government surveillance program. Of course, his criticism of the slides is spot on. In fact, many of the issues he raises in the tweets and in his books are similar to the issues we face when building elearning courses.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - powerpoint sucks is what the critics say

However, as if on cue out came the horde of conformist PowerPoint critics. Above is a sampling of some titles. While I don’t disagree with the criticism of the government’s PowerPoint slides, the fact is that PowerPoint is only an application. And the criticism is really about the way the presenters organized and presented their content. As a side note, there used to be a day when journalists were actually dedicated to exposing government tyranny rather than merely exposing how they presented it in meetings. But that’s a different blog post.

While it’s true that PowerPoint has been used to create horrific presentations, it’s getting a bad rap. Personally I find PowerPoint to be one of the most powerful and diverse applications I use. So with that said, I’d like to offer seven reasons why PowerPoint doesn’t suck and may be one of the best applications you own.

PowerPoint’s a Blank Screen

PowerPoint is a blank screen. So what you have on it is determined by you. That’s why I always advocate being intentional with your design. There’s nothing on the screen that’s there by accident.

One simple tip is to refrain from using the default templates. If you need a template, create one yourself that meets the needs of your project and don’t rely on a template that has no context.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - a blank PowerPoint slide

Use PowerPoint to Create & Edit Your Graphics

PowerPoint has a lot of features that when combined allows you to create your own graphics. And since it starts with a blank slide, you’re not constrained by any templates or pre-determined schemes.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - how to create your own graphics in PowerPoint

Once you create your own graphics, right-click on the object and save as an image. I prefer to use .png because this maintains the image quality and any background transparency. Once you’ve save the object as an image, you can use it anywhere.

Related posts:

Use PowerPoint to Create Illustrations

PowerPoint has many of the types of features you’d find in advanced illustration tools like Illustrator or the open source Inkscape. To be successful you have to think of PowerPoint not as a presentation tool, but instead a blank canvas. And then learn to use the features that allow you to manipulate and create your own shapes.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - use PowerPoint to create simple illustrations

I look for illustration tutorials and see what it takes to recreate them in PowerPoint. In fact, for a recent workshop file, I needed an illustration that looked like a stacked sandwich. So I created this in PowerPoint. It only took a few minutes.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - use PowerPoint to create custom illustrations

Related posts:

Use PowerPoint to Create Videos

Starting with PowerPoint 2010, whatever you create in PowerPoint can be saved as video. PowerPoint 2010 saves as .wmv and needs to be converted to .mp4 for playback on most devices. I usually use Handbrake for the conversion because it’s free. But the newer versions of PowerPoint can save to .wmv or .mp4. Now you don’t need to do the conversion in a separate application.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - how to use PowerPoint to create videos

Click to view the PowerPoint converted to video demo.

To show you how good it can look, above is the Duarte sample presentation template that comes with PowerPoint 2010. I saved it as a .wmv and then inserted the video into Articulate Storyline so I had a custom player. As you can see, it looks really nice and all of the transitions and timed animations work. In fact, if I saw this without knowing it was done in PowerPoint, I’d assume it was created in something like Flash or a more sophisticated video application. By the way, by converting the video in Storyline from .wmv to .mp4, the file size went from 165 MB to about 11 MB.

Here’s an example of how we created some videos in PowerPoint and then inserted them into our rapid elearning courses.

  • Video sidebar to introduce course: In this video, we used the sidebar to introduce the course topics. The video was created in PowerPoint and then inserted into the presenter panel.
  • Video inserted on slide and in the sidebar: This is a demo we used to show that once you’ve created the videos in PowerPoint, you can insert them into your rapid elearning cour
    ses. Both videos (sidebar and main slide) were created in PowerPoint.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - example of a PowerPoint video in rapid elearning course

Click here to view the PowerPoint video demo.

Considering how easy it is to use the features in PowerPoint and with it’s advanced animations, I find it to be a pretty powerful application for creating video content. It’s definitely a lot more powerful than most of the simple video editors.

Use PowerPoint to Create Online Training

A few years back, building interactive elearning was a challenge because it required some advanced programming skill and expertise. However, that changed with the advent of rapid elearning. Essentially those applications like Articulate Presenter converted the PowerPoint slides into Flash files. Thus, you were able to create your own Flash content without requiring Flash programming skills.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning examples created in PowerPoint

Examples of PowerPoint-based Online Training

Now that we’re entering the second phase of rapid development we see tools like Storyline that import the PowerPoint content. They retain many of its features and allow for much more sophisticated interactivity—something that PowerPoint-based elearning always lacked. However, in either case PowerPoint plays a key role in the development of online training.

I will add that using PowerPoint to create elearning doesn’t mean that the course created with PowerPoint is good. Good course design still requires sound instructional design. However, if you do need to create online content then PowerPoint is a viable solution. And that’s the main point.

Use PowerPoint to Create Print Books and eBooks

Whatever you create in PowerPoint can be exported to a .PDF and subsequently converted to an ebook format if needed. That’s easy enough to do. However, you can also use PowerPoint in a way similar to what you’d do in an application designed to create real books. Because of the blank canvas and freeform environment, content can be placed anywhere you like. That means you can use PowerPoint to create your book’s layouts and pages.

In fact, the book E-Learning Uncovered: Articulate Studio was initially created in PowerPoint. As you can see in the image below, they created some layouts and a template to produce the book; from there they sent it to the printer. It’s probably not ideal to print a book using PowerPoint, but if you don’t have the skills to use InDesign or some other book publishing application, then it is a viable solution. And it goes back to my main point about PowerPoint’s diversity.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - books created in PowerPoint


Use PowerPoint to Create Mobile Learning

I was at a mobile learning conference recently and almost all of the content-providers who were selling mobile training had some sort of video-based solution.  This makes sense because video is a lot easier than HTML5, especially since HTML5 is still somewhat of a moving target. And in a lot of ways video for mobile learning is probably a better solution than more traditional, interactive elearning.

  • Video-based mobile learning: As I noted above, you can create videos with PowerPoint. In fact, here’s a direct link of the Duarte video. Access the link from your tablet or smart phone and see how it looks.
  • Print-based mobile learning: Because PowerPoint exports to PDF and PDF can be somewhat interactive, you can create interactive PDFs that work for your mobile devices. Here’s an example of a PDF for the iPhone and one for the iPad. All you need to do is modify the slide size to get the right aspect ratio. Paul Clothier shows how to do it for the iPhone demo.

Learn More About PowerPoint

Check out these tutorials if you want to learn more about PowerPoint and how get the most out of it:

Going back to the original argument, PowerPoint is a powerful application. The trick is learning to use it effectively. The tutorials and free resources above should help. But’s definitely worth learning to build better presentations. Below are some books and recommended resources to help you get started.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - recommended PowerPoint books

  • Non-Designer’s Design Book: If there is only one book to buy, it’s this one.  You’ll learn all of the basics about typography and visual design.
  • Beyond Bullet Points: Great tips to help organize your content whether presentation or rapid elearning.
  • Better the Bullet Points. Practical tips on using PowerPoint.
  • Slide:ology: Great book on visual design concepts and how to craft better presentations.  They have some good examples of branded templates that do work.
  • Presentation Zen: This book is very similar to slide:ology and will help you learn to communicate better with your slides.  I haven’t read it yet, but his new book is supposed to be good.
  • Back of the Napkin: Great book on organizing ideas and visual communication.
  • Various PowerPoint books: Tufte is a critic of the poor use of PowerPoint.  He offers a lot of good information on how to present complex data.  There are also all sorts of good how-to PowerPoint books.

The links to Amazon books may produce a slight commission.

So there you have it. For all of the criticism and belly aching about PowerPoint, it is still a very powerful and easy to use application. It just depends on how it’s used. And of course, if you spend all your time monitoring innocent citizens then odds are you won’t have time to build good presentations.

What tips would you offer the government to get better use of PowerPoint?


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

21 responses to “7 Reasons Why PowerPoint Doesn’t Suck”

Hello Tom,

Thank you so much for sharing this and seconding my thoughts about this incredible tool!

Personally, I think I do not need to be convinced about why PowerPoint is not bad. All the more because I am in absolute love with it!
It’s my advanced image editor, presentation tool, video manager and the most useful tool for everything creative I wish to do. Top that with its super ease to use!

PowerPoint is absolutely amazing! Love Microsoft for it.

Glad that you brought out the brighter side of it to the world that thinks that PowerPoint induces death. What a sham!

Many thanks, Tom!

– Akash
authorSTREAM Team

June 11th, 2013

I am finally starting to see people blog and write about PowerPoint not being the issue – so true! I always like to say, ‘You don’t blame the paint brush for a bad painting.’ When teaching people how to develop slides in PowerPoint, I always tell them ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’ This sums up designing in PowerPoint. Don’t get wowed by the bells and whistles – just focus on good presentation design.
Nice work, Tom! Keep spreading the word to help people see the real issue – the designer/presenter.

Thanks Tom.

I paid the full fee for Tufte’s workshop last time he was through town just to see if I could find out why he’s a PowerPoint hater.

What he FAILS, as do those who like to quote him in their PowerPoint Sucks campaigns, is to distinguish use-case.

Tufte is all about documentation, rendering complexity READable, data density, and resolution. And he’s genius at it.

If you want to create killer visualizations in that category, I’d agree PowerPoint’s probably not for you. But as I get to write in comments in a way you’d never write in a blog post…PowerPoint only sucks if you suck at it.

In solidarity with all who aspire to not sucking,

Roger Courville

I completely agree there needs to be a separation between the tool and its usage. Your statement of “the fact is that PowerPoint is only an application” is right on the money. The problem we face is people’s usage of the tool has been conditioned to be poor. In other words, there are so many poor examples and so few good examples of PowerPoint usage (and the default templates don’t help), people start to believe the bad approaches and design are the right way to do it.

While a good eLearning course built with PowerPoint is engaging and draws me in, there is nothing worse than being subjected to one that was clearly built with a bad PowerPoint deck with boring audio layered over it. It’s all about how one uses the tools.

The book list you provided is great. I’d add the following two to round it out:

– “Universal Principles of Design, Revised and Updated: 125 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design” by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler

– “White Space is Not Your Enemy: A Beginner’s Guide to Communicating Visually through Graphic, Web and Multimedia Design” by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

The first one is an especially good primer on design. It’s the one I use for teaching instructional designers basic design principles.

Its no doubt that power point 2010 and advance are great. Im using to record my voice in my presentations to my students. The only problem is that audio takes so much space. There is some how to reduce the file size?

(excuse my english, Its not my firs languague)

June 11th, 2013

Thank you Tom for those interactive examples using PDFs!

@Carmen: you can record in a different application and save to .mp4.

June 11th, 2013

I agree though that does not limit the software or the hardware is only our thinking that imposes the limit to what we want to create. You should check this out:

I couldn´t agree more! All of these are great examples of PowerPoint´s versatility. I have used it for animations, videos, graphics creation and edition and my clients just love the results.

Also, video is one of the most ubiquitous media formats, which makes it extremely practical to deliver content on any mobile device. So, if we are already taking advantage of PPT functionalities we don´t need any other application to start creating mobile learning.

By the way, I have learned all the PPT tips and tricks I generally use, from you 🙂

Great post, Tom. I’ve never understood the temptation of people to hate on PPT. It’s a pretty powerful tool (especially when used for good, not evil). Like any other tool it’s all in how creatively you use it.

It’s my favorite prototyping tool. I’m finding that a lot of my clients want something more than a content outline and less than a storyboard. A quick clickable prototype tends to do the trick quite nicely.

As always, thanks for the great perspective and examples.


– t

Thanks, Tom, for a terrific post, as always. If we use PowerPoint in the ways that you describe, we are able to meet the needs of our internal and external clients: to create affordable content at the moment of need, without having to invest in expensive software and extensive training. The trick, rather, is for us to become experts in the design and development of content in PowerPoint so that the content is so relevant and helpful that learners don’t even notice what the tool is.

PowerPoint doesn’t frustrate people. People with inferior PowerPoint design skills frustrate people.

I love PowerPoint, and you pointed out additional features I can use. Thanks!

Can we share the Duarte sample presentation template with others or do we need permission?

@Sally: it’s included in PPT 2010 so I dont see where it would be a problem to share.

Great point well made. The problem with powerpoint is that the person using it is usually executives or their asistants who have no graphical background and the results thereafter. Powerpoint IS a great tool if it’s used as it was “designed” to.

Thank you tom for giving these good reasons.

Several people I know start switching to prezi, because they think it looks better. Personally I feel you should use whatever fits the occasion best.

Your arguments will help me to maybe persuade some of my friends to use powerpoint when it is better suited for the task at hand.

Kind regards,
Timon Vinke

Thanks for these great lessons

How can I get the sandwich illustration ?

Is it available as a file to be downloaded ?

@Kwesi: I’m making a demo to show how I created it.

July 8th, 2013

Thanks Tom

July 12th, 2013

I love the videos in the sidebar but am unsure how you got them there?

@Charlotte: I’ll do a demo on that. Essentially, you size the ppt slide to an aspect ratio that is similar to what you want in the side panel. Then create your file in PPT and output as video. Convert the video to .mp4.

Once you have the video, you can insert it into the side panel as a media file.