business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times had a piece earlier this week about how members of the US military have developed an unhealthy addiction to Power Point, using the presentation software to illustrate plans, projections, strategies and tactics. The problem, some say, is that it oversimplifies issues and problems that should not be reduced to a slide, graphic or pie chart.

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” says Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps is even more blunt: “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” he tells the Times.

Not everyone agrees. The story says that “Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and says that sitting through some PowerPoint briefings is ‘just agony,’ nonetheless likes the program for the display of maps and statistics showing trends. He has also conducted more than a few PowerPoint presentations himself.”

And there seems to be a general consensus that there are certain times when Power Point is effective: “Senior officers say the program does come in handy when the goal is not imparting information, as in briefings for reporters. The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations ... are known as ‘hypnotizing chickens’.”

That’s pretty funny.

However, there are some important lessons here. Speaking as someone who does presentations for a living - though I use Keynote, which is the Mac software vastly superior to Power Point - as well as someone who has sat through countless presentations over the years, I know the pitfalls and the advantages of such software.

I have a couple of rules that I try to abide by...

1. The pictures are there to supplement the speech, not replicate it.
2. The idea is to give the audience something to look at other than me.
3. Simplicity is key. One vivid picture and one or two words is best.
Visual jokes work. I like to do the set up verbally, then put up a graphic or photo as a punch line.
Never, never, never utter the following phrase about a graphic: “I know you can’t read this but...” If the audience cannot read it, the graphic has no business being on-screen.
6. Every slide should move the narrative along.
7. The story has to work...even if the projector breaks.

The BBC reports that a new Harvard Medical School study suggests that if a person naps after learning something, it actually makes it easier to commit to to memory. The study results reveal that while people are asleep, their brains tend to work on making connections and processing links relevant to the information they’ve just learned.

I love this study.

Though, as an inveterate napper, I keep thinking that I should be a lot smarter than I am.

There was an interesting interview on “Morning Joe” the other day with Christine Lagarde, the French economy and finance minister of France, who was speaking about the financial troubles in the EU. She made a broad point that caught my attention, that there is a difference between transparency and clarity - transparency is just endless information, while clarity reflects a sense of ordered information priorities. The former is good, but the latter is better, she said...and I think that is an excellent point:

Transparency is never a substitute for clarity.

It may not last. It probably won’t last. But it is completely unexpected, and so I need to utter a phrase that is utterly delicious.

“First-place New York Mets.”

One of the realities of the Mets’ current hot streak is this. Just as they were not as bad as they looked during the first 10 days of the season, they are not as good as they’ve looked over the past 10 days.

But the last 10 days sure have been a helluva lot more fun to watch.

HealthDay News reports on a new study from the American Society for Nutrition, saying that “eating a Mediterranean diet may help keep your brain healthy as you age,” and that “adults over age 65 should look to include more olive oil, legumes, nuts, and seeds in their diet in order to improve their recall times and other cognitive skills, such as identifying symbols and numbers.”

I’m not 65 yet. But pass the seeds. It’ll be here before I know it.

Two wines of the week: the 2008 La Cana Albarino and the 2008 Raimat Albarino. They are both excellent and affordable examples of albarino, which is one of my favorite white wines - cold and crisp and especially good when served with spicy seafood.


Finally, a personal note. Twenty-seven years ago tomorrow, I got married to a woman who would later become known as Mrs. Content Guy, a woman who has had to put up with more nonsense than any adult should have to tolerate. She’s stuck around...she’s been patient and understanding and encouraging - which is more than an overgrown kid like me deserves.

So, Happy Anniversary, Mrs. Content Guy.

That’s it for this week. See you Monday.

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