PowerPoint Demonstrations: Digital Technologies of Persuasion

Stark, David C.; Paravel, Verena

When policy issues involve complex technical questions, demonstrations are more likely to marshal charts, graphs, models, and simulations than to mobilize popular movements in the streets. This paper analyzes PowerPoint demonstrations, the most ubiquitous form of digital demonstrations. The first set of demonstrations is the PowerPoint presentations made in December 2002 by the seven finalist architectural teams in the Innovative Design competition for rebuilding the World Trade Center. The second case occurred some blocks away, several months later: Colin Powell's PowerPoint demonstration at the United Nations. The authors argue that Edward Tufte's denunciation of PowerPoint does not capture the cognitive style made possible by the affordances of this pervasive new technology. On the basis of our case materials, they identify several features of the elementary grammar of a rhetoric that exploits the medium's potential to manipulate text, sound, and image. The analysis further demonstrates the distinctive morphology of PowerPoint. Its digital character provides affordances 1) that allow heterogeneous materials to be seamlessly re-presented in a single format that 2) can morph easily from live demonstration to circulating digital documents that 3) can be utilized in counter-demonstrations. A careful examination of this widely used technology is critical for understanding public discourse in a democratic society.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University
ISERP Working Papers, 07-04
Published Here
August 16, 2010


February 2007.