Whither PowerPoint: When to tell and when to show

In this exclusive excerpt from his new guide to speechwriting, 10 Steps to Writing a Vital Speech, Fletcher Dean confronts the thorniest dilemma in communication.

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The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings … in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.

-Edward R. Murrow

Edward R. Murrow, the famous architect of the early CBS News staff, knew perhaps more than anyone the power of the spoken word and the power of the visual. He began his professional career, after all, in radio, where the only way to communicate was through words, carefully chosen, to paint a picture in the audience’s mind.

Later, of course, Murrow was able to physically combine words and pictures when he moved over to television. It was a technology he seemed to have many reservations about but still used as well as any newsman of his day. He understood the influence visuals provided to move people when words could not. But, as most good news people do today, he never forgot that it’s difficult to pass along the heavy stuff—understanding and realization—with words alone. It was Murrow who said, “Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information.”

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