Avoiding death by PowerPoint…..
We have all been in a training room or classroom and heard the immortal words, “Now, I know you can all read so I won’t read through the whole presentation!” What happens next? You can almost certainly guess.
At this point, most of us switch off, stop listening and doodle on the handouts. However, a visual presentation, whether it be Powerpoint or some other software, is still very useful. It can play an important part of an effective training/teaching session.
Preparing your training session
Do you prepare using the slides as a structure? It’s an easy trap to fall into and sometimes can be effective – but maybe not all the time? It can end up with a very formal and ‘chalk and talk’ training/teaching session. Sometimes it can be helpful to begin sketching out the structure on paper – this way you can consider where slides would be helpful and where they would be there for the sake of it.
A good place to start is always at the end – what is the outcome of this learning? We can get there in many ways, so what is the most interesting journey that will engage the most learners?
Is it multi-sensory?
We are not all visual learners. We will always have a training room/classroom full of different types of learners, so it’s worth bearing that in mind. PowerPoint is obviously very visual. Would music work at various intervals? Are there practical resources that could open up a good discussion? Could the session begin with a riddle or puzzle to solve? This will not only break the ice, but warm the learners up and engage their minds.
However, many of us do appreciate visuals in a training session – just not the clichéd ones! A really interesting or unusual photo can make us
think in a deeper way and promote good discussion. Photos that are used as metaphors can be particularly well received.
How can PowerPoint be used effectively?
These are the main messages, cited in David JP Phillips’s TEDx talk (2018):
- One message per slide
- Use contrast and size to steer focus
- Avoid showing text and speaking at the same time
- Use a dark background
- Only use 6 objects per slide
Keeping learning interactive
An interactive white board, or a screen for a projector, is a focus for learners. It can, however, enable them to remain passive for quite some time – staring at this fount of all knowledge. It might be worth looking at your presentation and asking yourself the following questions:
- Could I reframe the first slide as a question?
- Could there be a discussion point on every slide?
- Are there links that the learners can get involved with, perhaps to social media?
- Could I present some quite dry but necessary information as a quiz?
- Am I using the animation tools available to their greatest effect – e.g. the reveal tool?
- Is there a regular slot that asks the learners to get up and move around/change tables/move groups?
If these aspects are considered, the presentation can start to really work for the learners, rather than being an aide memoire for the presenter. There is nothing wrong with having physical notes. Using the slides as your own script is only likely to result in complete switch-off mode.
David JP Phillips says something very powerful in the same TEDx talk: “…there is something in our brain called the redundancy effect, and it works like this. If you have text, sentences on your PowerPoint, and you persist with the annoying idea of speaking at the same time, what will be remembered by your audience is zero.”
This makes sense when we start to think about what we can lose from our presentations. If we are cutting out most of the text and perhaps only having images and a question on some of the slides, this is possible.
The key will be the confidence to stop, give the learners time to digest the information and discuss – regrouping afterwards to give your key message.
Handouts can be our friend here – nobody wants to use masses of paper, but some of the graphs/charts or other key messages you wanted to share on your slides may be much better placed here.
As with anything in teaching and training, there is no one correct answer for how to present. There is always room for testing out new methods and seeing how they land. Think multi-sensory, interactive and paring down your slide presentation. Try talking less and enabling learners to talk more or have more thinking time. It is all a learning process.