How Not to Deliver a PowerPoint Presentation

Today I have finally figured out why so many people cringe when they hear about the use of PowerPoint presentations for teaching. I use PowerPoints a lot and find them very helpful. More importantly, my students love them. So I was always puzzled by reports on how much students hate PPs. I kept persecuting my own students, begging them to tell me the truth about their presumed hatred of PowerPoint. Still, they loudly insisted that my presentations were great.

It turns out, however, that there are people who are capable of using PowerPoint to turn even the most fascinating discussion into an intolerable drag. For this reason, I decided to compile a short list of what you should not do when you are delivering a PowerPoint presentation.

1. Don’t read it. If a certain text already appears on the PP, it makes absolutely no sense to repeat it out loud. This bores people just as much as it would if you brought a textbook that everybody has in their hands and started reading from it. What you say has to be different from what people can see on the slides.

2. Bullet points should be short. They also don’t need to be repeated. Once again, if people can read it, they don’t need to hear it said aloud. Here is a random slide from one of my PPs:

When the slide appears, I don’t repeat what it says. Rather, I explain what the points mean.

3. Don’t read quotes. Nothing is more annoying than having a presenter read a long quote from a PP. If you put up a quote, it should be done to achieve some goal. For example, you can use it to start a discussion.

I usually put up a quote, ask students to break up in groups, go over the text, and answer the questions in a group discussion. This allows to avoid endless page rustling and complaints about how they brought the wrong text to class or how their little brother ate their textbook. The only time when I read a passage out loud is when I want to draw attention to its artistic qualities. Otherwise, reading aloud is a simple waste of time.

4. Drop the cutesy pictures. Sometimes, people add pictures to their PPs that carry no informational value. This infantilizes and annoys the audience. Unless a picture illustrates a point and can be discussed within the framework of the presentation, it makes no sense to include it.

I use this picture in a discussion of Sarmiento’s Facundo. Since students have no idea who gauchos are, it helps to have a visual aide. We can discuss different kinds of visual representation of the gauchos and contrast them with Sarmiento’s description. However, sticking a photo of a man on a horse into a PP that has nothing to do with people on horses is senseless.

PowerPoint is a great tool if used by people who explore its potential instead of using it as a device to bore their audiences stiff.

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6 comments on “How Not to Deliver a PowerPoint Presentation

  1. I agree with point #1. When I recently went to class that required that we analyze movies via the ethics rules broken or followed in the movie, the professor demanded that everybody doing a presentation provide a handout of all the slides for everyone and repeat all of the words on the slide at minimum. Dullsville.

    Personally I just used the class to zone out when I was listening to the presentation.

  2. Incompetence in the use of PPs is not limited to academia. I see it regularly in non-academic professional fields. Pedagogical tools with no understanding of the principles for using them are most likely to be misused. As an example, during my first education class that I took to get my secondary teaching certificate I was told not to write on the blackboard and speak to the students at the same time. They can’t learn with my back turned to them. This is quite obvious, but I never thought of it. Prior to this class I did this regularly and most people I see lecturing today do the same whether they are writing on a flip chart or reading from a PP slide. People do not understand basic principles of communication and education and do not get instruction in those principles. They just blunder ahead oblivious to their actual effect.

    Many years ago I was in an upper level undergraduate course that was taught by a professor emeritus who was the world’s expert on that topic and had written the standard textbook that every class in every university used. He would come to class, open his book and read one chapter per class. Absolutely BORING!!! One student decided to solve the problem by preparing a question for each class that was not covered in the book. We immediately had very exciting classes that exposed us to the thought processes and unpublished ideas of the most important investigator in the field in a century.

  3. BTW, I see an entire class in the slide of the gaucho: his clothing, the tack, the horse, his seat, his leg position. What does this tell us about his job, his culture, the environment in which he works? Notice his very straight leg with the toe pointed down. In Spain there was the the straight legged style of riding with long stirrup leathers that was used in northern Europe for heavily armored knights, but also the “jinete” style with bent knees somewhat similar to today’s jockeys that was adapted from the lightly armored moro cavalry. The former was vastly less athletic than the latter. Compare the photo above with those of Ángel Peralta Pineda, a rejonedor that I grew up watching. http://www.sarpanet.info/angel_peralta/index.php All of this may be boring to most, but of course, I am a horseman.

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