Putting the Point Back in Power Point: The Golden Rule

Dear Power Point Presenter:

Your slide should not be your cue card - if it is, it's for you, not your audience.

I’m the person in your audience who you just noticed yawning. Who is checking my IMs, Tweets, and my Google Reader while you talk. Who is about to walk away from your talk without the slightest chance of remembering you or anything you have said for the past 30 minutes.

Want to know why?

I’ll give you a hint – think about the Golden Rule. I seriously doubt you want done to you that which you are doing to others.

Powerpoint Law: Your power point slide show is NOT supposed to be for you. It’s supposed to be for your audience.

Let that sink in. Those slides that you are reading from, word-for-word? You built them for you. They are high-tech cue cards. Either that or all that dense text is about you trying to prove something to us — that you are smart; that you did your homework; that you are ‘the real deal’. Either way, we don’t like it. Stop doing it to us, it doesn’t work.

If the presenter reads what's written here, no one will remember a thing. Too much text, too many ideas, too many images.

We cannot retain anything when we simultaneously read the exact same words that we are listening to; it goes against how our brains work (more on the issues of split attention and cognitive load and split attention effect). How much do you think we’ll remember when you present your third slide in a row that contains two paragraphs of dense text that you expect us to read while listening to you while also thinking about what you are saying while also thinking about why you even bothered to put all this in a slide in the first place.

Present one idea at a time, visually, while saying those words you normally want to type out on your slide. Here, the idea is why we accept the new over the old.

Want to build your slide for the audience? Then stop splitting our attention. This is my golden rule. Here’s how:

  1. For each slide, boil your point/idea down to one brief statement.
  2. Present that statement in a text box.
  3. Support that idea with a relevant, powerful image or related images.
  4. When the time comes to present, simply talk over the slide (this is all the stuff you wanted to say from #1 above but didn’t because the rule was to use only one brief statement).

Here's the second idea presented in the earlier, text-dense slide. It's OK to have more slides if you spend less time per slide, especially if they have a strong visual component.

There are several great resources out there on making your slides more visual, and more focused on one idea at a time. I’ve included them here for your enjoyment.

I’m sure there are more out there, but these do a nice job of reinforcing my point. Be forewarned — moving to an audience-oriented presentation is not easy. But you will find the challenge interesting, and one you pursue for years to come.

And that will bring you one step closer to putting the point back in Powerpoint.

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1 Comment

Filed under educational technology, Instructional Theory, Presentations

One response to “Putting the Point Back in Power Point: The Golden Rule

  1. Interesting! I think presenters often COUNT ON you not paying attention by giving you a hard copy or electronic access to the very presentation they are giving. In your presentation advice, the PPT cannot exist separate from the presentation. Would you then suggest that the “notes/cue cards” version of the presentation–that part which is not given but created for the presenter’s benefit–constitute a “deck” for those not in attendance? Many people rely on the PPT as an accurate reflection of the salient info (or of all of the info) given in the presentation, and pass that along, rather than a written paper or video of the event. I guess it might depend on your audience’s (and your) expectations.

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