Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Does Powerpoint have Power? A Response

My dear friend Rev Dr Tan Soo Inn recently asked this question in his weekly GRACEWORKSMAIL 29/10. Please read the whole ecommentary here. He mentions that he does not use powerpoint in his presentations but uses handouts. In support of his not using powerpoint, he mentions two heavy weights like Christopher Witt and John P. Kotter who allegedly do not use powerpoint and have their reasons for not doing so.

According to Witt, powerpoint is good in conveying information not in persuading, hog the audience's attention and takes time preparing. All these three reasons are true. But is that a strong enough defense against powerpoint usage? Preaching and teaching are forms of communication. In any form of communication, there must be some information exchange. Communication must engage the audience and the speaker's face (no matter how handsome) should not be limited to as the only area of focus, and while it is true that power point take time to prepare, it seems to me strange to be given as a reason against using it. In preparing a sermon or a talk, if we begrudge the amount of time preparing powerpoint compared to research and data collection, then we have missed the whole point of the process of successful communication.

Saying that, I agree with Soo Inn that it is the messenger, not the powerpoint. I will also hasten to add that it is also the message and the audience. Personally I do not differentiate Christian preaching and teaching into two categories. To me, all Christian preaching and teaching are evangelistic and for edification. There can be no separation between the two. It is the work of the communicator to distill the huge amount of raw data from his/her research to the core of the message to be delivered. Personally I have to rework all my sermons or teachings 3-4 times to par down the amount of information to the core or essential sermon or teaching statement I want to convey. Who I am, my communication skills and my powerpoint are the means to convey this core or essential statement.

As communicators, we need to study our audience. Gone are the days when they are able to sit through hours of sermons or lectures. It may still work with the older folks but the younger folks have a different way of communication, hence the new social media. In a post modern audience used to two seconds sound bites, visual and musical ques and multimedia presentations, instant response and feedback (via texting, twitter, MMS, mobile video), the challenge is for communicators to connect with them in an effective manner.

Thank you for this stimulating ecommentary. An addendum: as we learn homiletics to communicate, communicators especially Christian pastors must learn how to design appropriate and effective powerpoint slides!

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