Microspeak: PowerPoint Karaoke and the eye chart


The game PowerPoint-Karaoke was invented in 2006 by Zentrale Ingelligenz Agentur. In this game, contestants are called upon to give a PowerPoint presentation based on a slide deck they have never seen. (The German spelling uses a hyphen between the two words. When "translated" into English, the hyphen is often omitted.)

At Microsoft, the term has been extended to refer to giving a presentation from slides prepared by somebody else, usually on short notice and therefore with little preparation.

Bob is out sick today, so I'll be giving the overview. Sorry for the PowerPoint Karaoke.

This is shorthand for "Sorry if this presentation is a bit clumsy, but I'm stepping in on short notice, and I'm not completely familiar with this slide deck."

In the context of PowerPoint presentations, an eye chart is a slide so dense with text that reading it is a test of visual acuity. The term is usually used as part of an apology for having created such a horrible slide in the first place.

More generally, the term eye chart refers to any presentation of data in a ridiculously small font. For example, over in the sales/marketing part of Microsoft, there are spreadsheets with titles like FY05 Sales Forecast Eye Chart. Here's what one of them might look like:

Region Jul 2005   Aug 2005   Sep 2005   Q1   Oct 2005   Nov 2005   Dec 2005   Q2 ...
FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y FY05 Fcst FY04 Y-Y
Northeast Widgets 57 57 0% 74 61 22% 85 92 −8% 216 209 3% 71 70 2% 53 59 −11% 90 89 1% 215 218 −2%
Doodads 41 52 −22% 79 81 −3% 100 85 18% 219 218 1% 49 52 −7% 93 84 12% 87 79 10% 229 214 7%
Gizmos 64 55 16% 95 88 7% 56 67 −16% 215 211 2% 59 79 −25% 58 69 −16% 68 83 −18% 186 231 −20%
Northeast Total 159 157 2% 138 168 −18% 170 212 −20% 467 537 −13% 205 224 −8% 209 177 18% 194 244 −21% 608 645 −6%
Southeast Widgets 80 70 15% 75 82 -8% 57 60 -5% 212 212 0% 63 83 -24% 49 53 -8% 92 75 23% 204 211 -3%
Doodads 59 69 -14% 60 73 -17% 67 68 -1% 187 210 -11% 54 70 -23% 98 86 14% 58 50 16% 210 206 2%
Gizmos 75 89 -15% 59 61 -3% 124 100 24% 259 250 3% 80 89 -10% 84 96 -13% 40 52 -23% 204 237 -14%
Southeast Total 204 239 -15% 220 189 17% 151 187 -19% 576 615 -6% 172 175 -2% 168 210 -20% 122 152 -20% 462 538 -14%
... etc for about a bajillion more rows ...

(The abbreviation Y-Y is being used correctly for once. Writing the program to generate all this fake data took far, far longer than writing the rest of this posting! It got a lot easier once I realized that, since this is just fake data, the totals don't have to add up.)

Giving the spreadsheet the title Eye Chart lets people know that this is the spreadsheet crammed with data to the point of information overload. If that's what you're looking for.

I wouldn't be surprised if these uses of the terms PowerPoint Karaoke and eye chart are also popular at other companies.

Bonus chatter: Last year, I was asked to give a repeat of a presentation I hadn't given in several months. I had only a little bit of time to prepare, and there were times where I lost my place and had to refer to my notes (which I thankfully remembered to keep). It's embarrassing to find yourself playing PowerPoint Karaoke to your own slide deck.

Comments (27)
  1. Tom says:

    It's ok, you deal in extreme obscurity so it's to be expected!

    I like the little italics dilemma at the end there.

  2. Wade says:

    "since this is just fake data, the totals don't have to add up."

    I'm surprised how often during a 'fake data with even more fake totals' demo that someone brings up a total being off. Some people have an eye for this (or perhaps they do not have an ear for PowerPoint Karaoke, so they invest in checking the math instead.)

  3. No One says:

    It's nice to see examples of Microspeak that are entirely reasonable.

  4. Patrick says:

    On the subject of PowerPoint Karaoke, there's also "Battle Decks" – a comedic competition (originally held at SXSW Interactive 2007, IIRC) where competitors get up on stage to deliver a presentation to a slide deck they have never seen.

    YouTube has a video of the 2008 competition:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch

  5. Gabe says:

    I'm not sure I understand the hyphenation. In the ZIA link, which is ostensibly German, I see no hyphen in "PowerPoint Karaoke". I see "Bullshit-Vokabular", "Clipart-Animationen", and others, but "Powerpoint Karaoke" never has a hyphen on that page. On the other hand, this article http://www.spiegel.de/…/0,1518,398488,00.html has it both with and without a hyphen.

    Maybe the hyphenation is just random in all languages?

  6. Also:

    wall of text := prose eye chart

  7. Mmx says:

    > Some people have an eye for this

    It's because they are using the numbers to check if their deductions about the chart/table are right. For example if you are basically guessing what Y-Y means, or you just have a doubt and you want to be sure, you might do a couple of calculations in your mind to get a comfortable confirmation. It helps to understand the rest if the example, even if containing random data, is self-consistent.

  8. Horst Kiehl says:

    Gabe: Well, in German, "PowerPoint-Karaoke" must be hyphenized (or written together, like Powerpointkaraoke") because it is one noun, different from PowerPoint and from karaoke in general. As separate words it is just wrong; strictly, "PowerPoint Karaoke" would mean "a PowerPoint named Karaoke", similar to, say, "Präsident Wulff" which means "the president named Wulff", or "Museum Ludwig" which means "the museum named Ludwig" (after the art collector Ludwig). ("Karaoke PowerPoint" would be wrong too; I suspect it might be correct in French because of the word order of "noun adjective".) In extreme cases, the different meaning due to the missing hyphen (or omitted compound spelling) can change the meaning of the whole sentence (sorry, I don't have an example).

    Sadly, mostly due to the first version of the spelling reform, many Germans don't seem to see the difference.

  9. lefty says:

    > I'm surprised how often during a 'fake data with even more fake totals' demo that someone brings up a total being off. Some people have an eye for this (or perhaps they do not have an ear for PowerPoint Karaoke, so they invest in checking the math instead.) <<

    Nitpickers don't only exist in the blogosphere (I think I hate that word).

  10. Alex Grigoriev says:

    @RC: [Then I would've had to write a program to take the Excel-generated HTML and clean it up.]

    I totally thought it's just a picture in your posting, clipped from a screenshot.

  11. Adam Rosenfield says:

    @Alex Grigoriev: Raymond never uses pictures, for accessibility reasons I believe.  With HTML (which occasionally gets munged by the MSDN blogging software, though not in this case), now people using screen readers can get a taste of the eye chart instead of just getting some boring title text!

  12. Ben Voigt says:

    @Adam: Sure, people using screen readers can get a taste of the eye chart… at the expense of the rest of the post, since they're going to be hearing that table for a LOOOOONG time.

  13. Alex Grigoriev says:

    People using screen readers would better be served by the alt text for the picture, rather than by a bunch of numbers pulled out of rand().

  14. Alex Grigoriev says:

    Wait, did you actually write a *program* for that chart? I thought Microsoft does already have a program, named Excel. It would even sum these rows for you.

    I even run math simulations in Excel, to test some algorithms. It's not only for bean counters.

    [Then I would've had to write a program to take the Excel-generated HTML and clean it up. Either way, I'm writing a program. And it's easier to generate HTML than to parse it. -Raymond]
  15. Jaanus says:

    @Raymond why go to all the trouble with the fake data and HTML and cleansing? Instead of just a screenshot from an Excel sheet?

    [My workflow doesn't support images. -Raymond]
  16. Cheong says:

    [My workflow doesn't support images. -Raymond]

    Perheps next time when you have to do this, you'll want to make it in Word and withstand the HTML it generates.

    (btw, if your data is static and don't need update on-the-fly, I found that generally working with tables in Word more flexible than Excel)

    [It would take me too long to figure out how to make Word fill in a table with random numbers, compute the deltas, and color them red or green based on the sign of the result. It was much quicker just to write a program that spits out HTML. -Raymond]
  17. Bill says:

    [Then I would've had to write a program to take the Excel-generated HTML and clean it up. Either way, I'm writing a program. And it's easier to generate HTML than to parse it. -Raymond]

    Actually, PHP's HTML Tidy would have cleaned the Excel generated HTML pretty nicely ;)

  18. Cheong says:

    [It was much quicker just to write a program that spits out HTML. -Raymond]

    Or you can copy the Excel table to Word for it to do HTML conversion for you. (When copying cells, Word will convert Excel cells' content to simple text instead of formulas)

    [And then clean up the HTML. The nice thing about generating the HTML myself is that I can be sure no confidential information gets accidentally captured in the article. Think of it as a clean-room spreadsheet. -Raymond]
  19. Dave says:

    I once attended an Ignite where the final talk consisted of random slides pulled from all the previous speaker's slides. The speaker had no idea what the next slide would be until it popped up on the screen. The talk was actually quite good (it helped that it was done by a skilled speaker), you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch.

  20. Worf says:

    It may be HTML, but Raymond but some HTML juju on it that causes it not to zoome for whatever reason. I had to copy-paste it elsewhere to get a table zoom.

    After all, he went through all that trouble to generate the content, might as well see what it contains!

  21. AC says:

    @Worf:

    Might be (semi-)intentional. After all, that's the point of the eye chart.

  22. Mephane says:

    @Gabe

    "Maybe the hyphenation is just random in all languages?"

    As a native German speaker I can say, it has to be written with a hyphen in the German language; without, it is a spelling mistake. There's even a term for this spelling mistake which is extremely common on the internet, especially when dealing with partially or fully foreign words – "Deppenleerzeichen" which approximately translates to "idiot's space character".

  23. Neil says:

    @Mephane: English has an equivalent, often referred to as the greengrocer's apostrophe, misuse in plurals.

  24. Skyborne says:

    @Neil: My favorite misuses of English are parodied by Dave Barry's "Mister Language Person" columns.  In one of them, he pulls together a couple of lessons into the example: TRY "OUR" HOT DOG'S.

  25. 640k says:

    > Then I would've had to write a program to take the Excel-generated HTML and clean it up.

    Why isn't export to the ooxml standard good enough for you?

    [And then I have to write an OOXML-to-HTML converter. Why do you keep creating solutions that require me to do more work than simply spitting out some dummy HTML? -Raymond]
  26. D. Garlans says:

    I'm curious, Raymond, what language did you use to write your table generating app in? C/C++? I'm just interested to see what you'd use to write a quick one-off like that in…

    [C/C++ is way overkill for this. I used perl. (In retrospect, I could've used JScript and then printed outerHtml when done.) -Raymond]
  27. Worf says:

    Slightly OT – but I notice Microsoft has a real knack with Perl – it seems a number of devtools use it in some form (driver writers – INF verifier) amongst other utilities.

    I wonder what's the history behind this?

    Guess I'll wait for the suggestion box + 3 years.

    [I was writing perl programs long before I joined Microsoft. -Raymond]

Comments are closed.