Skip to main content

PowerPoint parties? Why the worst part of your job is a hot house party trend

A diverse group of people attentively watching a presentation in a dimly lit room with a projector screen.
Source: AI illustration by Clark Miller for The Standard

In early March, Anna Koenig, 36, a financial analyst for Alvarado Street Bakery in Petaluma, devoted two hours of her Saturday to designing a Google Slides presentation. This wasn't a work requirement, but preparation for the PowerPoint house party she was attending in Santa Rosa that evening. 

She wanted to amuse her friends, so Koenig's showcase revolved around “The weirdest subreddits I could find,” with slides devoted to bees wearing fake top hats and bread stapled to trees. “I’ve made lots of decks for work,” she said. But this was the first time she’d made one “so goofy.” 

At the party, the host erected a large projector screen and each guest—a mix of marketers, musicians, artists and technologists—got eight minutes to expound on their chosen topic. In addition to Koenig’s subreddit roundup, there was a Canva-created qualitative analysis of Yelp health food store reviews, lessons in renovating a crusty Airstream land yacht and a tongue-in-cheek animated guide for “how to stop affordable housing developments in 10 easy steps. 

“Some were really funny,” Koenig said; others just “really informative.” 

While the pandemic temporarily blurred the lines between personal and professional spheres, a growing cohort of Bay Area people insist on keeping those worlds permanently blended. They’re finding joy in "workifying" personal time, unleashing productivity apps and public speaking obligations on everything from post-collegiate house parties to birthday bashes to bachelorette parties.

Learning-driven parties are popular with Anosha Rahim, a San Francisco-based AI engineer, who last year organized a birthday party for a friend, which included a PowerPoint presentation about the birthday girl’s life, followed by a Q+A session.

Rahim also hosted a food-free Friendsgiving event as an alternative to the traditional food-filled holiday: “Instead of a dinner, every guest reads a paper about the history of Thanksgiving and indigeneity,” and then they discuss what they have learned. No turkey or trimmings are served, Rahim said, but there is “always tea.”

Despite the work-like drudgery implicit in these social functions, their popularity is understandable, said Zachary Reese, an assistant psychology professor at the University of San Francisco and director of the Love and Communication Lab. “Many people in the Bay Area have highly technical jobs, work from home and interact with few people over the course of a day,” he said. Hence, the draw of “boring party games that let them share their otherwise isolated experiences.”

In PowerPoint party land, eccentricity is king. At a December gathering hosted by Richa Tenany, a software engineer for Disney based in San Francisco, slides included "Guess the parents of the AI-generated child" and "Will you get canceled in 2024?" (Peak San Francisco PowerPoint may have come from this 2021 clip by TikTok user Blueberryjuice2. Slides included, “Comparing my exes to different cryptocurrencies,” and “Where to find women in SF.”)

Naturally, PowerPoint developer Microsoft is thrilled by this trend. “[PowerPoints] offer a unique twist on traditional get-togethers,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. The company may be less thrilled to learn that, in fact, most PowerPoint party attendees now opt to design their presentations using Google Slides or Canva.

For Lee Ann Delarosa, a 25-year-old operations engineer for JLL, a real estate and investment management firm, there ain’t no party like a practical party. She has hosted “skill switch” events, wherein friends take turns teaching their talents, ranging from bullet journaling to piano to Mandarin lessons to music production. “We go for brunch after,” she said. 

In March, she co-hosted a "trash bag party" after watching a video about making rafts out of Glad bags. “We built a raft and sailed it on the Stanford campus,” she said. “We were skeptical, but it floated!”

A group of people gathered around a table with books, engaged in conversation in an elegant room with a striking art piece on the wall.
The Silent Book Club meets at the Obscenity Bar and Lounge at the Hotel Emblem by Union Square in March.
| Source: Courtesy Silent Book Club San Francisco

However “boring” a party may be on paper, coming together as a group to build or play instantly gives Gen Z people something they are sorely lacking: opportunities for bonding. 

“We are highly social creatures: We want to share our stories with others, and we want others to validate us,” Reese said. “Self-disclosure is the foundation of intimate relationships.”

Why the Bay Area is ground zero

It’s not an accident that this nationwide trend has its roots in geeky, introverted San Francisco. More than a decade ago, the city birthed Silent Book Clubs, wherein people gather at a set time, order drinks and then silently read whatever book they feel like for an hour or so. When reading time wraps up, some share thoughts about their books, while others scurry home. These events have now expanded to 500 local chapters in 50 countries.

Related gatherings include a 17-year-old earthquake preparedness dinner party, BYOB pity parties for Y Combinator rejects, and “accountability” socials, like the ones Stephanie Wildman, an author living in the Outer Richmond, throws twice a week on Zoom with seven other writers. “We work muted for two hours, and then we say what we have done,” she said. 

Keith Bartolomei, a San Francisco-based professional organizer, has hosted group workplace decluttering parties for eBay, DoorDash and Square employees to help staff streamline their spaces. “I offer practical solutions so that they can declutter and store items more effectively,” he said.

On the less dull, more delightful scale, Sheel Mohnot, a fintech investor and the co-founder of Better Tomorrow Ventures, recently tweeted that he group-workshopped his brother’s dating profile during a dinner party. A Hinge profile was Airplayed onto two HDTVs (one for photos, one for profile), followed by a spirited debate about which prompts and photos to use. "Big [difference between] men's suggestions (with innuendo) and women's (anti innuendo)," he wrote.

Some Bay Area parties have even less of a point to them, which in itself is the point: Take Hole party, a thrice-yearly BYOS event (bring your own shovels) on Ocean Beach, where people dig a big hole and then fill it in again. 

This March, Ric Bretschneider, a San Jose-based 30-year Microsoft veteran and current Microsoft MVP (a title awarded to the most proficient PowerPointers) restarted the Silicon Valley PowerPoint Karaoke club after a Covid-hiatus. 

Here, attendees have to convincingly weave stories about random slides to an audience, with no time to prep. (Another Bay Area variant is Battle Decks, a in which entrepreneurs pitch a random startup deck to friends, who vote on the most convincing pitch.)

For the most part, alcohol and adult edibles play a limited part in these events. There is far more interest in being intellectually stimulated than in stimulants.

“People will self-select out if they're not interested in that kind of thing,” said Koenig, who won the “spiciest PowerPoint” award at her Santa Rosa party. “The standard of just drinking and standing around is a little bit boring,” she added. “People are looking for something new and different.”