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PowerPoint parties are still bringing friends together, one hyper-specific subject at a time

By Scottie Andrew, CNN

(CNN) — For McCall Mirabella’s 21st birthday party last month, she asked guests to bring only one gift: A PowerPoint presentation.

Mirabella, a TikTok and YouTube personality with over 1.3 million followers across both platforms, assembled her closest friends and asked them to present a slideshow on anything they could think of. The only criteria was “the sillier, the better.”

Her guests delivered. One attendee ranked the attractiveness of 10 animated characters while another humorously explored the disparate stages of being high. Mirabella herself presented her predictions for how long her friends would survive in the Hunger Games (and how they’d meet their violent ends, seemingly a popular template for a PowerPoint party).

Such are the delights of PowerPoint presentation nights, which boomed in popularity during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic but are still charming partygoers (this, in spite of its regular use in corporate offices the world over). Through a silly slideshow, groups of friends get to know each other’s niche interests, secret pastimes and frequently hilarious takes on their friends’ quirks and strengths.

Seeing the people she loves get worked up over assigning each other Taylor Swift songs that match their personalities or fictional crimes that would land them in prison is a joy specific to slideshow-centric parties, Mirabella said.

“They’re so unserious,” she said of PowerPoint nights she’s attended and hosted. “Most of the time, people are left crying from laughing so hard, or bent over wheezing.”

PowerPoint parties got popular during the pandemic, but they’ve delighted friends for years

PowerPoint nights involve little more than an HDMI-compatible TV, a slideshow and a willingness to razz your friends or reveal your hidden passions. The software itself is nearly 40 years old, and it’s since become a staple in many offices and classrooms, but the ingenious PowerPoint party turns the familiar tech into a medium for comedy and comradery.

The concept of the PowerPoint party was formalized in 2012, when three students at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, hosted a “Drink, Talk & Learn” event. Guests of these early parties had to show up with a presentation on the arcane subject of their choice, like the moral alignment of Sonic the Hedgehog character Shadow, per Buzzfeed News.

The theme steadily grew more popular and by 2018, more PowerPoint enthusiasts in the US had caught on. Soon, everyone from software engineers in Seattle to students in Boston were presenting slides on hyper-specific subjects to a small crowd, often with a drink in hand.

In the Harvard Crimson’s account of one local PowerPoint party, a student presented his argument for why King Claudius is the true hero of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” a divisive take if there ever was one. The presenter told the school paper that his zeal for the topic had been relegated to “a rant to my friends up until now. Finally, I can present it to strangers.”

When Covid-19 arrived in 2020 and millions of Americans isolated in their homes, virtual PowerPoint parties became a safe, distanced way for friends to update each other on their lives and provide much-needed levity. Groups separated by the pandemic shared their screens on Zoom or even rallied their housemates to turn an ordinary night in isolation into an opportunity for a private TedTalk.

Tantalizing snippets from these presentations landed on TikTok (users rarely spill the juicy contents of the slideshows beyond their uproarious titles),  inspiring other users to host their own get-togethers. The subjects are typically zany, lighthearted takes on the idiosyncrasies of a group of friends — like how they’d each fare during a zombie apocalypse — and minor passions or dubious theories like the “real” (read: fictional) reason the dinosaurs died.

Since the party format took off in 2020 (and has since amassed over 40 million views on TikTok under related hashtags), TikTok users have tested crafty new variations of the typical slideshow gathering and polled users on different platforms, like Reddit, for unique suggestions for presentations. Take the host who ambushed their guests by forcing them to present someone else’s PowerPoint on a subject they knew nothing about, like the hapless friend who bluffed their way through a presentation on how to pick stocks. A group in Philadelphia creates slideshows for their single friends to catch fellow singles’ attention. One creative TikTok-er even came out to their family in a PowerPoint on Christmas.

Though Microsoft PowerPoint software isn’t a requirement for these presentations — competing services like Prezi, Canva and Google Slides are also popular — Microsoft issued its own advice for hosting a premier PowerPoint party. Among its suggestions: Take advantage of those wacky transitions so photos can boomerang across the screen and titles can disappear with a click.

Since her cousins introduced her to PowerPoint parties during a sleepover eight months ago, Mirabella’s presentations have only improved in quality and theatricality. Her recent Hunger Games-themed slideshow included multimedia elements like Taylor Swift entering the fictional arena for a brief halftime performance to break up the bloodshed. Her friends voted it the best presentation of the night.

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