Death By PowerPoint

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster took the lives of seven astronauts in 2003. The ship burned up upon reentering earth’s atmosphere due to a small hole in the wing. Engineers from NASA and Boeing had reviewed the status of the shuttle extensively after noticing a small piece of foam came loose during takeoff and caused some damage. They had all of the information but missed the correct diagnosis. What they were most lacking was clear and effective communication. No matter our profession, we can take this lesson to heart. 


In his post, “Death by PowerPoint: The Slide that Killed Seven People,” Jamie Thomas explains the way in which information was presented to key decisions makers likely influenced their decision to bring the astronauts home in a damaged ship. The critical PowerPoint slide had a misleadingly reassuring title, font sizes and an order that implied a false sense of hierarchy, and several terms that when left unqualified, likely pushed leaders to the wrong conclusions. Tragic doesn’t even begin to describe the post-crash analysis. 


We may not experience life or death stakes over our own communications, but the sentiment is clear: keep it simple, keep it direct, and make sure whoever we’re communicating with is getting the information they actually need. Mediums, like PowerPoint, have their own inherent limitations and baggage. Take a moment to think about how the next email, report, or presentation actually communicates our purpose for using it.