Computer Presentation Skills

"Particularly disturbing is the adoption of the PowerPoint cognitive style in our schools. Rather than learning to write a report using sentences, children are being taught how to formulate client pitches and infomercials. Elementary school PowerPoint exercises (as seen in teacher guides and in student work posted on the Internet) typically consist of 10 to 20 words and a piece of clip art on each slide in a presentation of three to six slides -a total of perhaps 80 words (15 seconds of silent reading) for a week of work. Students would be better off if the schools simply closed down on those days and everyone went to the Exploratorium or wrote an illustrated essay explaining something." from Wired 2003 by Edward Tufte "PowerPoint is Evil".

This is a quote from an article in Wired Magazine in 2003. Since then PowerPoint has only become more common in classrooms. For the most part we have not done much to help teachers to use it more effectively. Another article in the Creating Passionate Users blog exposes these flaws of PowerPoint use that are very common:

  • Slides that are bullet points or worse... paragraphs (no visuals, too many words)
  • One way lecture/broadcast
  • Simplifying important content into meaningless points.
  • Talking to the slides – letting the slides drive your words

Here are some questions that Kathy Sierra, the blogger who writes Creating Passionate Users, suggests that users of PowerPoint ask themselves:

  • Is your presentation mostly bullet points?
  • Are there more than 12-15 words per slide?
  • Do your slides add little or no new info beyond what you say in words?
  • Are your slides simply not memorable?
  • Are your slides emotionally empty?
  • Do your slides fail to encourage a deeper connection to the understanding of the topic?
  • Do your slides show distorted data? (often the graphs used in PowerPoint confuse rather than clarify data)
  • Do your slides encourage cognitive weakness?

Ask these questions of each slide...and show no mercy!!

She makes the point that good presenters communicate with the audience and are able to shift between the slide mode and communication with the audience. They can rearrange their slides in real time (reacting to the needs of the particular presentation rather than following every slide). She suggests (and others also suggest) that you work toward an absolute maximum of 6 words per slide.

The focus should be on the content and communication, so most sounds and special effects are distracting and actually take away from the message.

When working with students we need to teach them to start with their goal in mind and then use PowerPoint only to enhance what they are saying. PowerPoint should not replace the complete sentences and thoughts of a report, but should enhance it.

Next Tip: Workplace Ergonomics