‘PowerPoint karaoke' to celebrate the best and worst of a modern military requirement
“Death by PowerPoint” is what peeling potatoes was to military generations of the past — a shared experience of droning misery that servicemembers are often “voluntold” to attend.
The heavy use of dry, no-nonsense PowerPoint presentations in the military, combined with the massive amounts of information servicemembers need to know, has led to some profoundly boring presentations.
On March 6, participants will gather in San Francisco to have a little fun with all the tedium, poor formatting and unintentional humor.
“Military PowerPoint Karaoke” will be put on by the Internet Archive, a digital archive of the Internet’s past. It will feature slides from what organizers describe as the “Military Industrial Powerpoint Complex,” a collection of publicly available slides from .mil sites.
The slides will cover a wide range of military topics, such as infantry tactics, combating human trafficking and the intricate procedures required for servicemembers to request leave.
PowerPoint karaoke, also known as Battle Decks, is an increasingly popular improvisational game that can be played in front of audiences or at home for fun. But using military presentations might add to the challenge.
Active-duty servicemembers and recent veterans shared their stories Thursday about the type of material the participants will be using.
“Sitting through a military PowerPoint presentation was so bad that there was usually a proactive movement within the office to find whatever permissible reason one could to avoid the PowerPoint torture,” said Marine veteran Mary Carmona. “I would rather have cleaned toilets for the entire shop than go. Working party elsewhere at the same time as the PowerPoint? Sign me up.”
Due to the overwhelming amount of Marines who tried to get away from attending the briefs, PowerPoint presentation attendees usually consisted of junior Marines and a few unfortunate non-commissioned officers told to attend, Carmona said. “You could always tell where the presentation was being held by locating the mass of glum-looking Marines, shuffling slowly into a building, like cows being led to slaughter. They know it’s inevitable.”
Once you finally start, after waiting on who knows how many technical problems, you are treated to an hour or more of grainy photos and awkward, obvious bullet points, Carmona said.
Servicemembers said that not all presentations are bad. Those who use a few simple bullet points and photos to illustrate a succinct message get it right. But too often, servicemembers without any real training in presentations work off a template and put gobs of material in a tiny font on an overhead screen.
Marine Sgt. Courtney White, of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, cited too much text, monotone presenters who read verbatim from the slides and outdated clip art or videos as particular problems.
White recalls an especially grueling presentation with multiple PowerPoints back-to-back on the same day, where several Marines had to stand up in the back of the room, to attempt to stay awake.
“It was very rough,” White said.
Annual training requirements like sexual assault awareness and suicide prevention are particularly bad presentations, said Marine Sgt. Ruben Poot, of Marine Corps Recruiting Station Twin Cities, because they repeat the same information every time.
While he acknowledges the information is important, being forced to sit through the same presentation “is basically death by PowerPoint” for the Marines in the audience, he said.
Presenters at the upcoming karaoke event in San Francisco will have more than 57,000 presentation decks to choose from.
“Once you finish one, there is another right behind it, and they just keep coming in an endless cycle,” Army veteran Jonathan Ryan said.