Still Think Microsoft Invented PowerPoint?

We commonly believe PowerPoint was launched by Microsoft almost 30 years ago - right?

Wrong. It was invented by a Scot called James Pillans more than 200 years ago. (By the way, he's not the guy in the photo.)

chalk n talk powerpoint presentations

From Chalk 'n' Talk to PowerPoint

James Pillans was a school Headmaster and is widely recognised as being the inventor of the blackboard. In 1801 he hung a large piece of slate in his classroom and forever changed the course of classroom teaching. Little did he know, he'd be responsible for a presentation style that would last over 200 years.

Pillans' Chalk 'n' Talk approach to presenting was an extremely effective way of getting a message remembered. He built his message step-by-step on his new blackboard, in a way that his students understood. While the blackboard may have looked confusing to someone who arrived towards the end of the class, it made perfect sense to those who had observed the whole picture develop. 

What's the link between James Pillans' slate and PowerPoint?

Launched in 1990, PowerPoint effectively offered presenters multiple blackboards - known as slides. As presenters (and business professionals alike) adopted PowerPoint for building their presentations, the fundamental principle that made the Chalk 'n' Talk successful was - sadly - largely forgotten. With the ability to build slides in advance of the audience seeing them, presenters created complex slides that they displayed 'all at once'. This approach confuses and bores in equal measure, and is the root cause of "Death by PowerPoint".

So which is better - blackboard or PowerPoint?

Both approaches are capable of achieving the same result and there more similarities than might appear at first sight.

A complex PowerPoint slide shown 'all at once', is likely to give the audience the same feeling as someone arriving at the end of Chalk 'n' Talk presentation. Not only will they be confused by the complicated visuals, but they'll be forced to choose between listening to the presenter and studying the slides. The complete message isn't successfully communicated, and consequently, it's not fully understood and is easily forgotten. However, it doesn't have to be this way.

PowerPoint's animations and transitions offer a great way of creating a Chalk 'n' Talk style presentations. For example, you can build up a complex flow chart block-by-block, as you explain each element. This approach will simplify your message and increase the likelihood of it being retained in your audience's long-term memory.

When did you first witness a PowerPoint presentation - at work or in the classroom?

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