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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Conferences and Powerblob

Any conference presenters unconvinced by your admirable strictures against the ubiquitous bullet points (editorial, October) should visit www.norvig.com to view the famous Powerpoint parody of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Another source is Edward Tufte’s writings, especially his essay ‘The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint’ and his book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

A good test of vitality for the business language prevalent in many presentations is to ask whether the metaphors evoke relevant imagery. When presenters speak of bullet points, nobody thinks of a soldier firing a gun. But in the absence of this imagery, the bullets are best described as blobs, and the presentation and presenter as blobby. When companies claim an unparalleled track record, nobody thinks of a running track (which would be rather odd if it were unparalleled). When consultants boast of their ability to deliver solutions, nobody thinks of them driving a van.

Another good general rule is that visual aids are most useful when the information to be conveyed is spatial or geometric. This suggests that they should be very useful in architecture, but less useful in actuarial science. It also explains why The Actuary struggles to select relevant cover photographs, and the cover photograph of BAJ defies all interpretation.