This week—when I wasn’t stuck on snow- and ice-covered highways or shoveling said snow and ice out of my driveway—I have been putting together a lesson for one of my classes on how to create effective PowerPoint presentations. Up till now, I had always focused mainly on getting students to stop putting whole paragraphs of text onto their slides and then simply reading them to the audience during their oral presentations. “We can all read,” I reminded them. “Use bullet points.”
Imagine my confusion, then, when I read an article entitled “Improve Your PowerPoints” and got to this section:
The good news is that 90% of the problem can be solved by following one simple rule: No bullet points. Reread the rule again (and again, and again) to make sure that it sinks in. Bullet points are the primary source of Death by PowerPoint. Bullet points are basically ugly wallpaper thrown up behind the presenter that end up distracting and confusing the audience. The audience is getting a message in two competing channels running at different speeds, voice and visual. It's a bit like listening to a song being played at two speeds at once. The audience member is forced to ask themselves: Do I listen to the presenter (which is running at one speed), or read the bullet points (which I read at a different speed)?
The author, John Orlando, argues that the main role of a PowerPoint slide should be to present a visual that focuses audience attention on your main issue. This is true, he argues, not only for an oral presentation but also for a PowerPoint posted on the web. He recommends software like Jing (see Bill Donohue’s earlier blog on this topic) or Audacity to explain the content of the presentation while the audience is looking at visuals—not written words—that reinforce the main points of that content.
What do you think? What advice do you give to your students about making effective presentations? Do you use PowerPoints in your own class presentations, whether face-to-face or online? What, for you, makes an effective PowerPoint? Do those bullets really cause death by PowerPoint?