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Article – So You’ve Decided to Use PowerPoint …

The business of communicating ideas is big. Presentations aim to hook, empower and inspire audiences. Unfortunately, it is more the norm to bore audiences with overstuffed visuals, crammed words and misquoted quotes. Focusing on the “3As” of presenting will help you create that stellar presentation you were hoping for.

Audience

Obviously, the audience influences basic principles such as graphic selection (size and type) or use of jargon/acronyms. However, to really reach your audience, you need to ask yourself: what are their expectations? How will I best get my message across?

Most audiences view PowerPoint as a one way street. They see how many slides you have and switch off. Grab their interest, and customise your presentation: try to make it more interactive; use pictures or video instead of words; customise the content to their needs and learning styles. In some ways, you will need to meet their expectations—big picture versus specific detail. Otherwise, feel free to surprise them. A good presenter will consider all of these questions before considering a presentation mode. Watch this YouTube video for more on ‘audience’.

Alternatives

Considering the use of training aids is the eighth step in the development of instruction according to the Australian Army’s ‘Instructor’s Handbook’. As such, the development of a PowerPoint should not be the first or only type of training aid you consider when making a presentation.

Again, ask yourself: can my message be conveyed without PowerPoint? Consider the alternatives to PowerPoint, especially if the location of the presentation is not conducive to the medium (ie bad light, no sound, outside).  Instead, consider the following methods of presentation:

Whiteboard. The humble whiteboard is simple. Points can be added easily. It is portable, it can be made clearly visible to the audience (after you have considered set up), and its visual effectiveness is only limited into the number of coloured markers you use. It can still send your message clearly and with minimal fuss.

Flip Chart / Butcher’s Paper. A flip chart requires planning, but it can better connect you to the audience as they can participate in the presentation. Recording of ideas can occur quickly and easily. Then, these ideas can be displayed for the audience to later review.

Magnetic Slap Cards. Slap cards are useful when presenting multiple steps or points. The advantage is they are portable, easy to use and can work in all types of weather (except perhaps for very windy conditions)!

Other Presentation Tools. IT allowing, consider Prezi, HaikuDeck or even SlideDog.  Prezi give presenters the ability to “zoom around” a presentation, expanding and investigating links between the main message and the details. HaikuDeck is a modern twist on electronic boards and large tear away paper pads. SlideDog combines multiple media file types in a single presentation. WO2 Chivers’s Cove article ‘Death by Powerpoint? Finding New Ways of Presenting’ provides more information on these alternatives.

Astute

After considering both the audience and the presentation alternatives, you have decided to go for a PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a powerful tool for presentations: that is all it is – a tool. The operator determines the effectiveness of its output. Do not put mountains of information or out-of-focus graphics on slides.  You want to be smart, or astute, with your PowerPoint presentation.

KISS. Keep It Short and Simple. If you can get your message across with three slides, do not have five. If you are repeating information, remove it. Apply methods that enhance your message, rather than letting PowerPoint lead you along.

Colour. Too much colour can ruin a good presentation. A good rule of thumb is to print your presentation slides out in black and white. If the message is still clear, then it will be clear in colour too.

Bullet Points. Do not write whole paragraphs on a slide, then read every…single…sentence. Time stands still for the audience when this happens and the message will be lost. Design the slides with key words or short phrases. Be succinct and accurate.

The ‘666’ Rule. Too much information can be evil (to your presentation). Apply the 666 rule: six words a line, six lines per slide and no more than six slides of text before using a graphic. At most! While this is not a hard-and-fast rule, it provides basic guidance for an angelic presentation.

Summary

PowerPoint can be a great tool … but it can also kill your lesson.  Stick with the “3As”. Think first about your audience; what message are you sending to them, and how well will they be able to receive it? Next, think of your alternate presentation tools; what would best suit the environment? If you do choose to use PowerPoint, be astute – use it as a tool, not as a couch. Above all, don’t be lazy! Don’t just pick up the PowerPoint of the last presenter: make it your own, and speak to your audience with an authentic voice.

Good luck with your presentation!


About the authors:

This article was produced by a team of dedicated educators from the Education Wing at the Land Warfare Centre. Education Wing is available to support individual and unit educational needs – just contact them through the DRN.

3 thoughts on “Article – So You’ve Decided to Use PowerPoint …

  1. With regard to “Colour” [sic] — If you must use color, limit your palette to the PASTELS. These are easier on he eyes. And for the love of all things sacred… please ensure any text on a colored background is projected in sharp contrast to that background (e.g. white letters on darker backgrounds.)

  2. Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTML) offers useful guidance for PowerPoint design.

    CTML applies two cognitivist theories: dual coding theory and cognitive load theory. Dual coding theory demonstrates how the visual and auditory channels operate separately to interpret sound and imagery. The working memory integrates the data from both channels to form a mental image that connects with existing data in the long-term memory. Cognitive load theory explains how the presentation of teaching content can either minimise or exacerbate the degree of extraneous load on the working memory.

    Key CTML principles include multimedia, modality, temporal contiguity, spatial contiguity, coherence, signalling, redundancy, and social agency. For an explanation of these principles check out Mayer’s lecture at the link below:

    https://hilt.harvard.edu/blog/principles-multimedia-learning-richard-e-mayer

    Re: C.Smidt’s comment. Reading slides out breaches Mayer’s redundancy principle whereby processing identical information that is both visual and auditory increases cognitive load.

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The Cove is a professional development site for the Australian Profession of Arms. The views expressed within individual blog posts and videos are those of the author, and do not reflect any official position or that of the author's employers' - see more here. Any concerns regarding this blog post, video or resource should be directed in the first instance to hello@cove.org.au.