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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Heard in the Hallways: Headed for a Military Conference? Brace For the Eye Exam

A recent U.S. Army aviation conference served as a reminder that a prerequisite for such events is an eye exam.

The event was one of several whose presentations feature the notorious "quad chart." This visual aid crams four Powerpoint-type slides into a single slide. Its widespread use indicates someone in the chain of command determined it is a useful communications tool. Whoever that someone is, two things are certain: a) his eyes are not over 40 years old, and b) he has never viewed a "quad chart" from beyond the third row in a meeting room. These charts may be useful as handouts or for briefing a small number of congressional staffers. For conveying information to a crowd, they are a waste of ink, light, and time.

Speakers at such events pack presentation slides densely. One typically contains up to 200 words — almost as many as are in this item — and is hard to read from a distance. Speakers know this, routinely joking about "eye chart" slides. Four packed on a single slide are illegible.

We’re told human communications is more than 90 percent visual. That begs the question: Is the quad chart’s aim to foil communications?

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