Jens Kjeldsen has a nice paper on the rhetorical issues of PowerPoint. PowerPoint is basically a rhetorical tool. I remember a lot of talk in my lower-level university courses about "sounding convincing" and "pulling it off" by using it. But strangely, my impression is that it is almost universally spoken about as a presentation tool, as a teaching aid, and as a communication device. All of these are rhetorical forms, but that side never gets mentioned. I like the paper because it takes some of the vaguely uneasy to downright hateful feelings I have had about PowerPoint and puts it in much clearer language.

The Argument


  • Encourages fragmentation of thought.
  • Creates hierarchies where none exist.
  • Opposes narrative and linear arguments.
The Content Template:

  • Squeezes big, lumpy knowledge into
  • Tiny arbitrary, bite-sized bullet points.
  • Creates a standardized format for every

PowerPoint during presentation:

  • lecture. Whoa. Uh. And it often
  • leads to lecturers standing half-
  • turned away, reading every. Single.


Not Going Away:

  • Nonsensical. Bullet. But PowerPoint
  • Isn't going away, so Kjeldsen argues in addition
  • to media literacy (audience) for "Media Rhetoracy"
Media Rhetoracy:

  • (speaker) - I prefer "rhetoriciousness", myself, but whatever -
  • Which is the ability to use communication
  • tools in suitable ways. In rhetorical terms
Rhetorical terms:

  • to be aware of the relationship of the
  • visual tool to the kairos, which is awareness of:
  • Situation, audience, moment, etc.

Ethos, Pathos and Aramis
or Enough with the bullet points, already:

In addition to what Kjeldsen is saying, from a cultural studies-ish perspective, I would also add that PowerPoint has some false rhetoric built into its form when used on audiences not accustomed to seeing PowerPoint. This is because it is generally acknowledged by the public-at-large as a professional tool. Hence, it lends an air of credibility to even the most inexperienced speaker. It disproportionately inflates his ethos, so to speak. Also, the template of PowerPoint lends a false air of logos to the argument. It appears in a structured fashion, provided by PowerPoint, hence, it must be structured. And that's just not a good thing.

This also filters into his first example. The mother completely misjudges the kairos of the situation. She uses a tool which reeks of logos in a situation where logos is very inappropriate, giving the whole thing a business-like, cold feeling. Kids can be great at detecting instrumental reason, sometimes. This is also why you should never hold wedding speeches with PowerPoint presentations, which I've heard is something that people do in consultant weddings.

Oh, and btw: very bad media rhetoracy with the little video clip of Jens K in the beginning. Completely non-sensical and basically just a live version of the abstract. It has no justification, to my mind, but appears to be a requirement from the publishers. Very distracting and doesn't say anything that the long version doesn't say a kazillion times better.

(link via Jill)


Blogger Mikkel said...

I coined the phrase "Ethos, Pathos and Aramis", and I want you to pay me everytime you use it. Five dollah. Five dollah.

November 27, 2006 3:27 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Mikkel did, indeed, coin the phrase Ethos, Pathos and Aramis (and many other of my best jokes). And he will be duly rewarded. In his dreams.

November 27, 2006 3:29 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

If i may i will use that phrase (properly quoted, damn APA) in my thesis.

February 11, 2017 2:48 pm  
Blogger mrtn said...

Cool! :)

February 13, 2017 10:34 am  

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