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.