the power of the default

Our tendency to stick with what’s right in front of us is well-documented.  (I know it’s Wikipedia, but check out the fat list of references and further reading!).  I was at a lecture on obesity a few weeks ago, and I learned that in 2006, Disney World’s fast food places changed the kids’ meal default sides to carrots and milk (rather than french fries and pop) – and the majority of people actually got the carrots and milk, even though fries are way tastier and are still available if you ask for them. Michelle Obama was pleased.

I think we can harness the power of the default.  I’m talking about something on a slightly smaller scale than the national obesity epidemic.  I’m talking about the problem of really terrible academic talks.  As most of my school friends can attest, I’m pretty opinionated when it comes to talks.  I’m really impressed when someone gives a good presentation, and I’m irked every time someone shows up and reads their slides (full of bullet points and equations) to a room full of smart, literate people – WHY OH WHY!?  There is so much advice out there on how to give a good talk.  It’s absurdly easy to find.  So what gives?  I think a major part of the problem is PowerPoint’s default.

That sounds so simple, but I seriously believe that if PowerPoint’s default slide layout was “blank slide” rather than “header and bullet point box,” the overall quality of presentations worldwide would increase significantly.  People wouldn’t be initially prompted, over and over, to fit their research into a bullet-point framework. People would feel freer to add pictures, graphs, schematic diagrams, videos, etc etc, if that bullet point box wasn’t cramping their style.  With less text on slides, people might run through their talk once or twice before giving it, just to make sure they know what they’re saying and that they aren’t going over time.

Don’t underestimate the power of the default.  I think it could do magical things for the academic and business world.

p.s. – “let me google that for you.”  So hilariously snarky.