Delivering a powerful presentation involves much more than adding bullets to series of PowerPoint slides. While PowerPoint is one of the most prolific presentation tools, it is also one of the tools most abused by its users. There are things that PowerPoint does very well. There are other things for which it should never be used! Keep reading for five quick tips and techniques that can help to rescue your students or audiences from “death by PowerPoint” and in the process show that PowerPoint (and other presentation tools like Prezi) is still alive and can be used well.
Presentation Tip # 1:
We do it almost by habit. We begin by creating PowerPoint slides with bullets. Insert fun animations for pizazz. Deliver the PowerPoint presentation. Ask if there are any questions. End class. Sound familiar?
Far too often, our presentations are driven by the tool we are using, instead of being driven by the message we want to convey. Because we are familiar with PowerPoint we use it to organize our thoughts into bullet points. Slide after slide of bullet points. Even though, for most of us, this may be the least effective way for us to communicate the message AND the least effective way for our students to learn the content.
But the problem isn’t the tool. It isn’t PowerPoint’s fault. The problem, for most of us, is that we have not stopped to consider whether PowerPoint is the most effective tool to communicate the content. We forget to ask first what we need to convey and then what tool will support that most effectively.
The next time you need to design a presentation, or deliver a chunk of course material, try something different. First, begin by organizing your main thoughts onto index cards, or sticky notes. Then, arrange them in the order that makes the most sense. Instead of thinking of this as a straight line (A –> B, linear), instead imagine a branching family tree with roots where the main idea is the trunk. Or a Mind Map where the center is the main idea which spiders out into clusters in all directions. Begin grouping your ideas by their relevance to each other. Once you have all your ideas organized, then start asking this question for each “chunk” of information: How can I best communicate this to my students? You will find that sometimes PowerPoint (or another presentation tool) can be a useful vehicle for presenting your information!
Presentation tools are almost perfect for displaying visuals, main ideas, overviews, review, comparisons, question prompts, and many other methods of teaching.
Presentation Tip # 2:
Answer the Why Questions
Its easy to do. We have so much content to deliver, that its almost impossible to get through in the class time that’s allotted. So we pack our slides full of content, and hope the students can grasp and retain what is important. Its time for a presentation overhaul!
Instead of working to fit everything in, work to decide what the one, two, or three most important things your students need to grasp that day are. Next, brainstorm as many questions about the material as you can (when, where, who, what, and especially why).
Why is this relevant to me personally? Why should this be relevant to you as a student? What is provocative about this? What is novel or interesting? What isn’t included in the text that adds depth of meaning? Where can more information be found about this topic? How would this impact ___?
These why questions will provide you with the “hooks” that will help to grab your students and keep it throughout your class. The why questions are what keep us engaged, keep us thinking, keep us searching for the answer. Look for ways within your presentation where you can engage students in dialogue about the “Why” questions.
Presentation Tip # 3:
Reduce and Refine Your Slide Content
It is ok to have a lot to say! Its actually a very good thing. But its not good to put it all on screen. When all of our content is on the slides while we’re speaking, we are apt to look at them often, and even read from them. Don’t tempt yourself! Instead, master your content, plan an effective delivery strategy, and stick to it. Thorough preparation allows you to avoid using PowerPoint as a supporting tool and not do the presenting for you.
The first step in reducing and refining your slide content is to decide what you can take away. Your slides should contain as little as is necessary to get across the meaning of what you are saying. Depending on your material this could actually mean 5 bullet points, but this shouldn’t be the norm of what your slides contain. PowerPoint is much more useful for elements such as a provokative quote, or an image, or just one word placed on screen for emphasis and to remind students of the main point or idea.
If most of the words (or even 1/4) that you are speaking are up on the slide, students will read the slide instead of listening. As much as we like to think we can multitask, we can’t effectively read and listen at the same time! So get rid of that text! Some IS essential, but chances are that most of it isn’t.
Visuals can be one of the most effective aspects of your presentation. An effective, well timed visual can help students grasp concepts more quickly, clarify muddy points, and provide a mental hook for retrieving information later. BUT, it is essential that you get rid of visuals that aren’t helpful (fuzzy, blurry, contain words that are too small to read). If you have to say “I know you can’t see this but it says “…” – then it is likely a bad idea to put it up on the screen. Instead focus on providing only the essentials.
Delete any crazy animations, when a smooth fade will do. What we want is to make sure that your content is solid, engaging and thought provoking. If it is, then you won’t need any “bling” to keep people awake.
Remember that distractions – even good intentioned ones on PowerPoint slides – can hinder learning. Take the time that is needed to review, reduce, and refine your presentations to remove distractions and unnecessary information.
Presentation Tip # 4:
Alternatives to the PowerPoint Lecture
Take some time to think through what you would do with your time if you didn’t have a PowerPoint presentation. What if you walked into class and there wasn’t a projector? After the moment of panic, what would you do? Its always a good idea to have a plan B, but beyond that, there’s an even better reason to think through what you would do with the time. Because the less time spent lecturing could mean more precious moments spent on active learning. So, even if the technology doesn’t fail, think through these questions beforehand:
- Where could you use an image or a hands-on object instead of text on the screen?
- Where could you use a blank slide? It might help students focus on the deeply relevant story you will tell.
- How could you mix in some active learning? Could you use a question prompt slide and have students discuss their opinion with their neighbor?
Presentation Tip # 5:
Brevity • Clarity • Activity
Research keeps showing that lecturing (even if you are great at it) at its very best, is only as good as active learning at its worst. Following the Brevity, Clarity, Activity mantra can help your lectures grow to love active learning, and vice versa.
Brevity: Keep your lecture portions to 1-15 minutes. You can do more than one lecture segment in a class period, but they should be broken up by more than the occasional question or rapid note-taking. Break up your lecture segments by using Think-Pair-Share, one minute paper responses, check for clarity or for muddiest points, Clickers (classroom response systems) for polling or comprehension checks, getting students up and out of their seats, a hands-on activity, or any other method that immediately applies the content they’ve just been taught.