I went to the bookstore to buy a book I’d read about. I was anxious to get it, but not for the obvious reasons. Although this book has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize and is a National Book Critics Award Winner, I wanted to read it because the author has written an entire chapter in the form of PowerPoint slides. 76 pages’ worth. And since I work with PowerPoint in business applications, this was a new and exciting concept for me!
A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, is comprisedof 13 chapters, each narrated by a different character and each narrative varying from the 1st to the 2nd to the 3rd person. The book is a journey around time, written in a non-continuous timeline, and all the narrators are somehow connected by their involvement in the music industry. The structure of the book, as the author explains, “is like a record album; it consists of 13 small parts that are very different from each other in tone and feeling, but they all fit together in one big story.”
“Great Rock and Roll Pauses”, the PowerPoint Chapter
The PowerPoint chapter is narrated by a 12-year-old girl who lives in the near future and is keeping a journal in slide form. She writes about her family, especially her brother, who has a kind of obsession with the pauses in Rock-and-Roll songs. This chapter is the apex of the mix of languages and formats in the book. Egan challenges the word-by-word narrative of the rest of the book by using PowerPoint slides for Chapter 12, and she explains that her main reason for doing so is to let her “show these pauses in a visual way that would have been impossible in conventional fiction.”
As a result, the chapter is a very good application of the most important concept of a good presentation: to succinctly use information and visuals to enhance understanding. Whether in a novel or a conference room, a PowerPoint slide show is all about how something is said, but, also, and just as important, what is not said.
1 – The slide below would need a complex narrative to convey the meaning if there were no visual; and it probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful:
2 – Whereas the slide below is all about what’s NOT written on the slide:
– There’s nothing to contest the fact that Dad is working. He’s working. Period.
– It’s a big deal that Dad is working. (It has its own slide.)
– Dad isn’t home. There isn’t much (or not much is known) to say about Dad’s work.
3 – Both slides below are examples of how powerful a visual can be, even if it’s graphically simple, to help an audience to imagine a scene and a mood.
Facts in parallel:
The trigger, the flow of ideas and the consequence:
PowerPoint as a Medium
The PowerPoint presentation has gained such importance that today it’s much more than a tool. It’s become a very strong communication medium.
In an interview she gave for Amazon’s book blog, Jennifer Egan explains the reason she devoted an entire chapter to PowerPoint slides (full interview here):
“I knew I wanted to write in PowerPoint ever since 2008 when I read in The New York Times that a PowerPoint presentation had been largely responsible for the turnaround in the Obama campaign. Sort of the re-calibration of that strategy and narrative, as they say. So I was really interested that it was branded, right in the paper. It was called a “POWERPOINT.” That really struck me. I thought: ‘They didn’t say a paper, they didn’t say a memo, they called it a POWERPOINT. capitalized. Ok, this has become a genre; this is an actual genre of representation and communication, so it can work for fiction.”
So now, here is Egan’s wonderful “Great Rock and Roll Pauses” chapter with its PowerPoint format:
(If you can bear the curiosity of not watching the slide show right now, I recommend reading the book first! But if you just can’t wait, well, go ahead and enjoy Alison Blake’s slides!)