Book Of The Month - Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint

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It's a bold claim, but it very well could be true. 

I mean, think of PowerPoint's teachings like this: There's always something on the next slide. Or maybe: something is always going to go wrong, but people will be too bored to care. Or maybe even just something in the middle.

BC_ Everything I Know About Life

But for Russell Davies it's much more. 

Russell Davies | OffGrid Sessions

His new book "Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint" goes way beyond how to just write a PowerPoint presentation, but also can be used, by a thrifty reader, to figure out how to make friends and influence people. With PowerPoint. 

People use this software in all aspects of life; from the start of a business to its end, from a wedding to a funeral.

But why has it, both the programme and the performance, become so ubiquitous?

And how has it grown to be, according to Georgina Voss, "the default for what a presentation is - more than just 'biro' or 'hoover' describing any ballpoint pen or vacuum cleaner, but actually moulding in its affordances and use behaviours"?  

Or who even invented it? Or why is it banned in American courtrooms? Or which Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has a chapter entirely in PowerPoint?

Well, in his book, ol' R.D is going to explain. 

According to the PowerPoint Professor himself, the software is the "general purpose, do-it-all, DIY, whatever-you-want everything-store, Desert Island software. Don't leave home without it." 

It goes against the slick, simple, aesthetically-pleasing consumer goods and software that have become popular and expected - think MacBooks, iPhones, even the most up-to-date sleek coffee pod machines. It's the hardy, clunky, white plastic compared to a shiny silver chrome. 

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Instead, PowerPoint can be used as a software swiss army knife. Microsoft loaded it up with all it could; photo retouching, audio compliance etc. etc. But it's this technological maximalist approach which means "it's taken over the world". 

It's why it has become the baseline for presentation software, changing how people react with a number of different behaviours, from design work to public speaking. And it comes with a level of comfort and accessibility, and lack of pretentiousness. 

From a dad's wedding speech, to TikTok virality, it gets "everywhere, and it gets used for everything". R.D recommends checking out the hashtag #powerpointparty, where families and friends hold mini-conferences where they all present. The topics include:

  • Which War Crimes the Characters of Glee Would Commit
  • Why Pretzels Are Just Confused Bagels
  • Casting Ratatouille - Live Action
  • Elephants

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PowerPoint is about performance, theatre, and society. It can be great when it's great, and terrible when it's terrible. Think a Ted Talk vs a Quarter 4 pre-meeting team discussion. Basically, it's a software which can "tell us a lot about power, and who gets to say what where."

But the book's advice goes beyond just the PowerPoint. R.D, through describing what makes impactful presentations, manages to outline the linguistic qualities you should strive for in everyday life. All in the context of becoming a true master of the slides. So, you'll get tips and tricks like:

  • Practise a lot
  • Lower the bar - just avoid mistakes
  • Don't aim for excellence; excellence will screw you up and get in your head
  • Repeating yourself is difficult but essential
  • "A good line in a speech is like a good piece of music...if you take a small thing and repeat it throughout the speech, like a chorus in a song, it becomes memorable". 

So, it's no wonder reviewer Stuart Heritage said the book is "giddy with the joy of communication", and a "love letter to language ('Use a little alliteration', page 159", while eBay calls it "Very Good: A book that has been read and does not look new, but is in excellent condition," and "No obvious damage to the book cover. See the seller’s listing for full details and description of any imperfections."

Everything I Know about Life I Learned from Powerpoint by Russell Davies |  9781788167376 | Booktopia

But who is this enigmatic PowerPoint Principle? Well, let's have a look.

Apparently, according to his website, Russ has "thought and talked more about PowerPoint than is consistent with a normal and balanced life". 

Basically, he gets paid to know about PowerPoints, talk about PowerPoints, make PowerPoints, write about those PowerPoints, rinse and repeat. And he's done so for Wired, the BBC, and for MOMA. 

The MOMA story is an interesting one. The museum features The Big Red Button; an intervention designed to let Russell take his laptop on stage. 

moma button

Currently, he's the VP Marketing at Bulb, cofounded Newspaper Club and RIG, and is a contributing Editor for Wired.

Outside this, he's been blogging regularly since 2003. So, if he tackled the wild west of early internet blogging culture, he can succeed in anything. 

He also came up with the '48 Laws of PowerPoint', which includes such ideas as:

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And don't forget:

 Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint 7

…and finishing with:

 Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint 8

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