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Fine for its purpose, but don't stop here ....
on January 19, 2009
On the one hand, there are those books that instruct users in what a program can do, and, on the other, those that delve into the better and more effective uses of a program. "PP Step X Step" is solidly within the first category of mechanics and pays little heed to the latter consideration of wise use.
Everyone, however, must start somewhere and "PP Step x Step" provides as good a point of departure as any (I will also put in a favorable word for Weverka's "PP 2007 for Dummies." It's a bit lighter in tone than the mechanical grind of "Step x Step.")
"PP Step x Step" qualifies as a clear and thorough treatment of the nuts and bolts of PowerPoint, but its tour of all the functions and mechanics leaves unaddressed the issue of how best to use the program. Accordingly, the book provides nothing more than a good initiation -- much as practicing scales might be a first step towards playing Chopin.
In its ubiquity, PowerPoint is infamous. So many of us have experienced "bad PowerPoint." With respect to that dilemma, "PP Step X Step" does little to assuage the gnashing often experienced by sitting through presentations of pages of bullet points and gratuitous animations that add nothing but distraction. Lost in this book is any suggestion that PowerPoint should be used as visual support, rather than, so often, as a poor way to deliver textual material.
One of the more ironic aspects of "PP Step X Step" is that the examples packaged on the CD that comes with the book are generally ghastly. For example, one presentation that purports to be about the "use of color" is one of the most drab and mind-numbing expositions of bullet points imaginable. As another example, in another presentation, the background (which has a wide range of contrast) clashes with the text washing out the words.
Most amusing is Chapter 7 which does suggest that animations should be used sparingly: "it is easy to end up with a presentation that looks more like an amateur experiment ... err on the conservative side, especially where animation is concerned." Such suggested caution, however, is backed up by an overwrought example of multiple animations on a single slide that makes mincemeat of the advice.
To learn the mechanics, sure ... "PP Step X Step" is a good choice, but don't stop here. Look for books like those by Rick Altman ("Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck"), Nancy Duarte ("slide:ology"), Garr Reynolds ("presentation/zen"), and Cliff Atkinson ("beyond bullet points") to appreciate how PowerPoint can be used, not just as some toy to irritate audiences with long lists of bullet points, bouncing animations, amateurish clip art, and the irrelevant carnival of "WordArt," but as a persuasive and effective communications tool.