Category Archives: Instructional Theory

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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Filed under educational technology, Instructional Theory, Presentations

Text boxes — are they the new bullet point?

I have it on good authority that the new thinking in presentation-making is, and I quote, that “Text boxes are the new bullet point”. I get the idea here — let’s stop inflicting ‘death by powerpoint‘ on each other and start making some really good presentations. Ok, I like it.

But liking it and making it happen are two different things, and I’m not sure that such a monumental shift in presentation culture is possible. Fine, I’m a skeptic and a cynic all rolled into one (what do call a room full of skeptics and cynics? A skeptic tank). The bottom line is that people make presentations they way they do for a reason — it’s a culture left over from the days of the overhead projector. And in those days, text was king. This is addressed, among other things, in the presentation below called Presenting with Visuals

I don’t think the world is ready (ok, maybe it’s just me who is not ready, but my ego demands I generalize this statement to all of humankind) for thinking about presentations as a series of text boxes. Besides, I really think rigidly adhering to presentation rules — no matter what the rules might be — has gotten folks into the mess they are in. Rules may not be the answer after all…

Stupid presentation rules

Stupid presentation rules

Perhaps the more generally-applied heuristic is in order here. This is where principles of instructional design can really help. Take Dual-Coding Theory [Paivio] — the idea that text and visuals combined make for stronger learning. Or instructional message design (link to an article), which suggests that using contrast, repetition, and chunking text can help the learner process an instructional message more effectively. These are not new ideas and the Internet is rife with advice related to them [see also 10 tips for more effective presentations or the Presenting with Visuals slideshow above].

While these ideas are not the catchy “THIS is the new THAT” slogan of the dissatisfied presentation-viewing public, they make mucho sense and are easy to apply immediately. “Mucho sense and easy to apply?”, you ask. Yes, I say. Mucho grande. And those elements are a recipe for making shift happen (in reference to presentation culture, of course!).

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