Death by Powerpoint

This past year I had a goal of helping my students to become more functional on computers. Technology is always complicated, as it is ever changing. Sometimes it seems unnecessary to teach kids how to use a specific program.  However, I was consistently finding that, regardless of the software, my students needed to learn that technology is meant to support other skills. With that in mind, I decided to introduce them to the concept of “death by Powerpoint.” While I was not overly concerned with them becoming super skilled at using Powerpoint, I did want them to understand how to use technology to support and enhance an oral presentation.

I am sure many of us (if not all) have sat through some miserable lectures where a presenter read pages of script off a Powerpoint. In many of my college lectures the professor would write all sorts of concepts and definitions on to a Powerpoint, and we spent the hour frantically copying them down into our notes. Rarely did the prof stray from what was on the screen. I have also been to many presentations where these slides were kindly printed off for me ahead of time. While this saved my hand, it also helped me to check out of the lecture, as everything was already noted down for me. With both of these experiences in mind, I have come to believe that the best Powerpoint presentations are designed to prompt the speaker with a vivid image or phrase. As a listener, I can quickly take in the image and then focus on the speaker. As a speaker, you use the slide to keep you on track and to leave your audience with a memorable visual. I know there are many schools of thought on this, and I am happy to be challenged. Regardless, here is what I decided to do with my students.

We had just finished a unit on persuasive writing, and my kids had all written pieces trying to persuade me to add an extra hour of something into our weekly schedule. Since I knew that using their ideas would make my point that much more relevant, I chose one of my student’s pieces as inspiration for this lesson (and he was thrilled to have his idea so valued!) He had written a piece persuading me to add an hour of skatepark time into our agenda. While I did not decide to do this for the class, I did use his work to inspire my Powerpoint lesson.

I created two different Powerpoint presentations to show his ideas. One utilized many of the features of what I consider to be a poorly constructed presentation. The other was an example of a strong, well done presentation. My learning intentions were as follows:

  • Images should be bold, clear, and memorable. Do not use too many!
  • Real images are generally better than clipart.
  • Be consistent and simple with font and color. Do not use too many of either.
  • Ensure that all images are high enough quality so they do not appear to be blurry on the screen.
  • Any text should be concise. The speaker will add details out loud, not on the screen.

Here are my two presentations…  First, the “death by Powerpoint” version.

The title is difficult to read with the chosen font. There is quite a bit of text, and clipart was used.

There is far too much text in each paragraph, and the information provided is overly detailed. There are too many colors, and the text is difficult to read.

Similar to the last slide, there is too much text, and even more fonts are introduced.

Again the text is in a difficult to read color. There is too much writing on the slide, and the combination of clipart and images is not great.

This image is far too blurry when projected at this size.

I then presented exactly the same information, but followed my rules of a good Powerpoint. In the following presentation there is only one font throughout. The text is bold and easy to remember. All of the images are real. They are clear and match the messages on the slides. The persuasive evidence is clear: wicked tricks, fun outside of school, and a chilled out teacher. The listener is left with the message to say YES to skatepark hour.

I then challenged my students to create their own Powerpoint presentations, using these guidelines. They were actually sharing information about a chosen element. I asked them to use clear images, simple, bold text, and only a few slides to help them remember information. They then had to use their Powerpoint as an AID to help them to present their information.

I was really happy with the result! Most of my students really improved in their ability to speak about a topic without simply reading what they wrote. Since all of the information was not on their slides, they were forced to expand orally. And in general they created slides with strong visual images.

Do you think Powerpoint skills are important for our students? Why or why not? And is death by Powerpoint real….?

I have included links to my presentations if you want to try this in your class.  Please keep in mind a couple of things.

  1. I have no rights to any of the images in them, and they are protected by their own copyright. The presentations CANNOT be sold.
  2. I made these in Keynote (the MAC version of Powerpoint), so they do look a little bit different in Powerpoint.
  3. If you do not have the font that I used on your computer, it will not look the same.

Here they are:

Powerpoint Bad

Powerpoint Good

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