Slip of the Brain

Occasionally, I dream of opening a home for abused PowerPoint presentations. You know the ones–200 white words on a red background; a different design for every slide; bulleted lists that are topic headings and belong in the ‘notes’ section. No one knows how to tell a story. But story telling is the only way to change minds, to get agreement.

Eric Vortschatz, who has worked with me on several projects, knows the problems in getting people to tell a story. He has a client who knows that creating images in writing is a good way to keep the reader’s attention. But if one image is great, many are better. He showed me the following, which I am sure I will see in a PowerPoint presentation one day:

“…we professionals are aware that there is a challenging junction
where the accumulated puzzle pieces of all your important parts …
meet the question, “What is the best fit for me?” This silent grand
canyon is the greatest deterrent to [people] taking their most
important step toward their “aha” moment. It’s the missing bridge
to … what is the very best fit …”

Eric and I tried to figure this out–Where, exactly, is the junction where puzzle pieces meet questions? And how is this junction is a ‘silent canyon’? How can a silent canyon be both a junction and a deterrent? How can a person take a step toward a moment? And how can a canyon (silent or otherwise) be a bridge? And how can it be a ‘missing’ bridge if they’re taking steps toward it?

If you know any of the answers, oh, please, let me know. Eric and I are stunned into silence. Possibly that means we are in the canyon approaching the moment of the silent bridge.

If words were terror suspects, this would cause international outrage. When writers do this to words, it causes marketing copy.

–Quinn McDonald teaches writing, how to give a good presentation, and how to tell stories with Powerpoint. Eric Vortschatz is an editor and writer for well-meaning clients. (c) 2007 All rights reserved by Quinn McDonald.

6 thoughts on “Slip of the Brain

  1. Pete–you have so much going on in that response, I could stick with it for years. But I won’t. *Audience, smiles, relieved.* Drinking coffee and writing?

    First of all, the whole quote is “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” From the King James version of the bible, 1 Timothy (there are 2 Timothies), Chapter 6, verse 10. So your thinking is not only clear, but correct on that point.

    Second of all, PowerPoint. Sigh. I could write a book. Oh, I DID. Actually, it’s a class. I took Tufte’s course (that’s the link you have in your response) and learned a lot from him, and have read his PPt. treatise. He’s a classically educated man, and he’s right about PPt. It was never meant as a teaching tool. Actually, it was meant as a way to help engineers talk to marketers. The problem with PPt is the bullet points. I teach how to tell stories with PPt., not use bullets, and it works.

    There are a lot of reasons, but I’ll skip that. Onto how writing tools change what you say and how you say it–you are right on all counts. I also teach journal-writing classes, and I encourage people to write with a pencil or pen on a piece of paper. It slows you down enough to get in touch with your brain–often left behind when using a keyboard.

  2. After rereading my post, I realized something that didn’t come through strongly enough: my satirical tone! Even though I really do see worse all the time, it’s more of an eye-rolling “oh great, here’s more” reaction.

    I’ve noticed that comments I leave on websites aren’t as clear as they could be. I think it’s partly to do with the writing tool.

    It’s amazing how much the writing tools I use tend to affect my writing. When I write in text boxes on web pages it’s very much like writing email; I’m pretty quick to decide that I’m finished. When I use a digital tool that’s saving my work privately (like on my hard drive), I revise more. When I use a word processor with typographical effects like italic and boldface (and yes, I meant to do it that way), I rely on those effects to convey meaning. When I use a text editor I tend to rely just on the words themselves. And when I just use pencil and paper, my writing is quite different and less sequential.

    Different tools have stronger effects, and PowerPoint seems to be especially powerful in affecting writing; mine as well as, it seems, everybody else’s.

    I’m firmly in the “PowerPoint is evil” camp, although “powerpoint is evil” is very much like “money is the root of all evil” — when you delve or think into it, you see that it’s desire for money that’s the problem. With PowerPoint it’s something like “desire to believe that powerpoint makes you clear”.

  3. Pete–When I teach writing and we consider simplifying jargon, someone always tells me, “But people UNDERSTAND that, they all use it, too!” It’s the 7th grade way of thinking. Or just plain revenge.

  4. You have a writer friend named Vortschatz?? How fantastic. A treasure of words. (OK, should be a W instead of a V but things change)

    That example has to be the ultimate MMM: multiply mixed metaphor. Maybe scrambled metaphor would be better.

  5. Heck, that isn’t so bad; I see worse every week! I would translate it like this: “I’m calling you professionals, so you should be nice to me. I use the word ‘junction’ instead of a smaller word so you should see how smart I am. But I’m a regular guy too; you know, the sort of person who — just like you — would find a jigsaw puzzle beneath my abilities to actually work on. But I know pieces only fit in one place in a puzzle. That’s a metaphor for ‘what we’re talking about is really difficult but will yield to a procedure designed by a really smart professional like me’. It’s so hard it seems to me like trying to cross the grand canyon — I mean, the only possible way you could have a procedure to cross the grand canyou would be to find a bridge and walk across, right? My procedural approach — if properly followed — will result in you finding the answer to your problem, which is finding where the bridge over the grand canyon is.”

    I think it’s just an example of a particular kind an approach to the world with some very common characteristics:

    Belief that procedural approaches can solve anything, if you just design the right procedure.
    “Inside the box” thinking (maybe “crossing” isn’t what you do to a grand canyon — or maybe you need a helicopter)
    Using metaphors reflexively. “Puzzle”, “puzzle piece”, “grand canyon,” “bridge” — you see these particular metaphors all the time in a particular kind of speech.

    Metacommentary:
    Procedure is powerful, but pursuits that are really procedural, like computer programming, reveal the severe limits of procedure. If you have a significant programming problem nowadays you would very rarely approach it procedurally.

    People who don’t actually do puzzles tend to overemphasize the procedural way of solving them. Also they never find out that in really advanced puzzles, every piece may be the same and fit anywhere, which kind of blows the metaphor.

    “Bridge” is one of the deepest, most fundamental concepts in human thought.

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