Better Presentations

APM’s Future Tense reported this week on the prevalence of poor Powerpoint design. Nancy Duarte, author of Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, isn’t afraid to mince words:

We have a very putrid PowerPoint pandemic. It’s done so poorly it really doesn’t take that much effort to stand out among your peers or for your cause. A little bit of extra effort done well makes all the difference in the world because the norm right now is so bad.

Those are pretty strong words to describe a technology that’s so simple that I’ve often advocated spending no more than 15 minutes teaching it. After all, there’s really not much to it. Most of it is intuitive, and anyone who has even some fairly basic computer skills can put together a presentation fairly quickly.

The problem is that the visual literacy skills — the idea of what to put on the slides, how to visually organize and present information, and how to use the visual aides to complement your talk — are often overlooked. And because the software is so easy to use, people often don’t spend much time thinking about how their content should be organized and displayed visually.

Duarte recommends limiting the amount of text on each slide, avoiding excessive bullet points, and, above all, refraining from reading your slides to your audience.

Comedian Don McMillan gives these tips and a few more in his humorous look at PowerPoint presentations. This has been around for a while, but it’s still worth watching, even if you’ve seen it before.

EdTech wizard Alvin Trusty recognized the pervasiveness of poor Powerpoint presentations when he was preparing for his copyright talk at the Ohio eTech conference last winter. His presentation combined the copyright information with short, quick tips on how to create better presentations. Every couple minutes, he’d stop the copyright talk, back up, and explain how he did a certain thing in Powerpoint, or why he chose to present information in a particular format. His presentation is well worth your time, both for the copyright and the PowerPoint content.

In addition to the standard tips found elsewhere, Alvin also explains some neat visual effects that he uses to make his presentations more compelling. He’s a strong advocate of using pictures in his presentations rather than bullet points to illustrate key concepts.

As teachers, we do presentations all the time. Even if we’re not using PowerPoint, we’re constantly honing the art of public speaking. The more we know about how to take advantage of presentation tools to improve the delivery of our messages, the more effective we’ll be in presenting that content.

Plus, someone has to teach the students to make better presentations, too…