A Brief Note on China’s Ongoing PowerPoint Obsession

I hope you have nostalgia for the early 90’s, is all I’m saying

Photo by Product School on Unsplash

We need to talk about PowerPoint presentations for a minute. I’m terribly sorry about that but, as the title suggests, this will be short and the pain will be minimal.

My guess is that no one reading this has given any particular thought to PowerPoint in a long time. If you’re young enough, you’ve probably never thought about it — it’s just this software tool that you use when you have to. For those of you who are a little older and interfaced with the business world back in the day, you might remember its introduction — how exciting it was when you had this thing to replace clumsy slide carousels and transparencies, but how the de rigueur PowerPoint became a groan-worthy thing after a few years of overuse.

Point is, no one is all that impressed with PowerPoint presentations anymore. They are sometimes useful when you need a visual aid for a complex subject, and you can perhaps appreciate the cheapness and ease of use, but you no longer expect to see them at every meeting. The obsession with the software ended sometime back in the mid-90s.

In China, on the other hand, that obsession never ended — and if you are involved with international business in any capacity, now would be a good time to learn to love them.

PowerPoint in business settings? Naturally, that’s not a surprise. PowerPoint in schools? Again, that’s to be expected — but not just from the instructors. All of those colorful, hands-on projects you may remember from your childhood have, in this country, been replaced by “Make a PowerPoint presentation and show it to everyone.” You see PowerPoint presentations pop up on public displays sometimes, and even nose their way into social situations. Suffice it to say, if you are dealing with a Chinese person, then you can safely assume that you are dealing with someone who knows the software.

Maybe this infatuation will end some day. I keep waiting for the day when I can go a week without hearing any inquiries about PPT (the local name for the software, drawn from the file extension). But the years pass, and the expectations that you’re going to bring a PowerPoint Presentation never seem to abate.

Here’s how extreme this can get: Many years back, I was fired from a position in part because my superiors felt that I was underutilizing PowerPoint. Mind you, this was in a middle school, where I found I got better results from activities a lot more hands on than slides. Nevertheless, I did as I was told and made those precious PPTs…and I still got in trouble because I wasn’t sending them to my superiors to prove that I was making them.

They take this a little seriously, is what I’m getting at here.

You need to understand the general mindset at play here. If you give a presentation without using PowerPoint, many Chinese people will assume that you came unprepared, regardless of how the presentation goes. And if you put money and time into assembling really nice visual aids, there will always be people wondering why there isn’t a PPT in there. They just expect it.

So don’t fight the current. If you should happen to find yourself giving a presentation in front of a Chinese audience, have PowerPoint slides. Even if all you have is plain bullet points of your speech notes, throw them on a flash drive so they’re ready to go. You’ll be saving yourself some headaches.

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Andrew Johnston

Andrew Johnston

Writer of fiction, documentarian, currently stranded in Asia. Learn more at www.findthefabulist.com.