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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World Of Warcraft as an educational tool may not be a good idea

World of Warcraft Logo

World of Warcraft Logo

A recent Time magazine article (June 2009) states that the future generation of workers can hone its knowledge of culture and teamwork skills by continuing to play World Of Warcraft…

But is this really the best thing for kids?

Haven’t heard of WOW yet? Here’s a link to a video trailer about World of Warcraft to show you.

WOW is a massively multi-player online gaming environment which Blizzard, who produces it, claims to be 10 million users strong. At about $15 a month to play, you do the math…that’s WOW indeed!

In WOW, players work in teams to complete quests and the game measures each team member’s contribution to the team. The one that contributes most get’s to be (or stay) the leader, and other rewards follow proportional to the team member’s level of contribution.

Yep, sounds like the job of the future alright — collaborate and problem solve with others from around the world, and get rewarded for your hard work. Nice.

But do a quick Google Search for World of Warcraft Addict* and you’ll see some alarming items. Divorce over gaming, a WOW detox center, and  parents suing Blizzard for addiction. A youth organization condemns WOW, calls WOW the “crack cocaine of the computer world”.

YouTube sports several videos on the topic — among the serious ones is the one below called World of Warcraft game addiction documentary – Game OVERdose

Is this really the best way for kids to learn teamwork, cooperation, and cultural differences? I’d think more than twice about choosing such environments as tools for learning. I’m thinking there are lots of less controversial ways that can still be meaningful and useful to our youth.

Maybe that should be the next Time magazine article…


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Kids use technology do to more, better, and faster…but are we making sure they are happier?

I’ve always worried that the 21st century classroom, if achieved and fully realized, will unwittingly squash the spirits of a generation of learners.

I read articles by Marc Prensky about turning our youth into programmers and adopting  21st century learning practices and, while I agree with many of the points, I hear a clear and frightening message…


This scares me a little.

Is this really what kids need to focus on? Let’s not take the innocence from our youth any sooner than it needs to be. Yes, let’s put today’s powerful technologies in their hands — but let’s do it without creating a generation of go-getters who cannot stop go-gettin’.

Let’s not make more, better, faster the only thing we teach our youth to value or we’ll all be sorry.

Mark Osborne produced an award-winning video many years ago on this topic, which he appropriately called More. It’s fantastic. Please have a look — it’s about 6 min long. (Click the link to Despair.com to watch the movie).

Photo of the short video called MORE by Mark Osborne

Image from the video called MORE by Mark Osborne

(Click the link to Despair.com to watch the movie)


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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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King of Kong, I ain’t

Movie Poster for King of Kong

Movie Poster for King of Kong

I recently saw that documentary about Donkey Kong — called  King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. It was about two men and their quest to become the best at Donkey Kong (or at least get the highest score on record). The movie was ok, but after seeing it I thought to myself, “How hard could it be to score a cool mil’ on the good ol’ Donkey Kong?”.

It was on like Donkey Kong.

I searched the web and found a great emulator at 1980’s Games that housed the Kong’er. The site has tons of arcade classics besides Donkey Kong, so check it out!

The site let’s you ‘insert quarters’ and select a one-player game — which I did.

Screen Shot from Donkey Kong

Screen Shot from Donkey Kong

I began my quest to be the best. I made little Mario juke and dodge and jive and wail. I got further than I ever did as a kid — level two, the screen with elevators and springs. I was hot, I was ready, I was well on my way to a cool mil’.

Then I quit.

Why? It took me days of playing to get to the fourth screen. The fourth screen! That was only 16,000 points! Who the heck wants to sit around and play this thing ’til a million points?!? Not me. I have a new-found respect and admiration for those guys who hit those scores on arcade classics like this.

But it was nice to play the classics again — they require memorization, hand-eye coordination, risk-taking, and a little exploration. Not bad qualities to impart, I have to say. So if you are looking for good ol’ heart-pumping, adrenaline-charging, physically-challenging and mentally-stimulating fun, these arcade classics are for you.

I may have quit my quest to be the next million-point player in Donkey Kong, but I’m glad I found the classics online. They already have a special place in my bookmarks.

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Who watches the Watchmen?

Watchmen cover art issue 1

Watchmen cover art issue 1

Apparently no one.

I read Watchmen when I was a teen, nearly 20 years ago. It was a defining moment — a mind-bending, deeply complex and philosophical tale of comic book heros and anti-heroes. I loved it. Over the next 20 years, my heart sank with promise after promise of the story becoming a full-scale movie event — each ultimately becoming a longer and longer delay in what was, in my mind, to be the most monumentous and downright awesome comic-book movie to hit the screens.

Flash to today, March 2009, and you see a bitterly disappointed fan who, much like Star Wars, wishes he never saw what he saw in the 21st century because it utterly ruined what he knew of his childhood in the 20th century.

Am I just ‘one of those people’ who complains when a movie isn’t like the book? No, not with any regularity. Besides, the Watchmen movie did follow the book really well. And the actors looked just like the comic characters. All pluses for Zach. Do I care that the actors were just ‘ok’, or that the acting was nothing extraordinary? No, that’s par for the course with a comic book movie.


Cover art for Watchmen issue 6

But somewhere between the coolest issue (#6, The Abyss) and the movie, the mystique just dies. I’m not sure how (although the 5+ shots of Dr. Manhattan’s porno-like genetaila d0 not help carry the audience much) but it just gets, for lack of a better term, lost in translation. After you read issue 6, you can’t get enough. You want to know what happens next, what each character is doing and what they are all about.

After watching issue 6 I just wanted to know when the end would come so I could go get some frozen yogurt.

I wish I could report otherwise, but I can’t. Reviewers don’t like it. Noobs don’t like it.

Mr. Horse from Ren & Stimpy

Mr. Horse from Ren & Stimpy

And I have to say:  ‘No sir, I don’t like it‘.

The movie’s powerful messages and images are still with me, days after seeing the movie. That says something. But to think about watching it again makes me ill, and that’s disappointing. I wanted to watch it over and over. I wanted to watch issue 6 jump to life, and feel what it was like to be Rorshach.

It just ain’t there.

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Sea Kittens … food for thought about food

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has apparently renamed fish the cutsey term ‘Sea Kittens‘ (no, really). Apparently this is to make us think twice about eating fish — because no one wants to eat kittens, right? Or hook them in the kisser and drag them through the water. If you start to think of fish as cute and cuddly, maybe you won’t eat them? Read more about PETAs ideas here.

So let’s say you go along with this line of thinking.

Sea Cow is still Cow, right?

Sea Cow is still Cow, right?

“Fish, ok to eat. Sea Kitten…Kitten. Never ate kitten before. Kitten bad to eat.”

Let’s try it with another species.

“Cow, ok to eat. Sea cow…cow. Ate cow before. So Sea Cow is now ok to eat, right? Mmmm.” (Poor manatee doesn’t stand a chance anymore, now does he?)

Wait, let’s stay in the fish family.

“Catfish ok to eat. Kitten fish…kitten and cat are the same, so… perhaps I’ll try a tasty fillet-o-kittenfish after all.”

Now, I’m not against PETA’s move, per se. But you have to admit —  it’s much more interesting to play funny logic games with the new title they gave fish than to debate whether getting a daily dose of omega fatty acids through filleted fish flesh is treating animals unethically or not.

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