The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
you have a new option for making presentations! How
well does it work?
people believe that a presentation with visual aids is more persuasive.
much-quoted studies by the 3M/Wharton School (A
Study of the Effects of the Use of Overhead Transparencies on Business Meetings, Wharton
Applied Research Center, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, 1981) and
the University of Minnesota/3M (Vogel, Douglas R., Gary W. Dickson, and John A.
and the Role of Visual Presentation Support: The UM/3M Study, 1986) conclude
that visual aids:
audience’s perceptions of presenter
2. The Minnesota/3M study
concludes that an audience is 43% more likely to act on a speaker’s message if
he or she uses visual aids.
these studies were conducted in the 1980’s, before the development of PowerPoint
and inexpensive LCD projectors. Today, a presentation with PowerPoint is not
necessarily more persuasive. Consider these examples:
Motor Company limited PowerPoint presentations to only black and white charts—no
color, no text.
Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ordered military presenters to
purge their presentations of overblown graphics and special effects. (WSJ,
April 26, 2000)
McNealy, president of Sun Microsystems, forbade the use of PowerPoint at Sun in
striking observation of the Columbia Shuttle Accident Investigation board was
that chronic use of PowerPoint communication at NASA prevented the effective
flow of information that contributed to the Columbia disaster (Read
the excerpt here).
information gets passed up an organization hierarchy, from people who do
analysis to mid-level managers to high-level leadership, key explanations and
supporting information is filtered out. In this context, it is easy to
understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize
that it addresses a life-threatening situation.
At many points during its investigation, the Board was surprised to receive
similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports.
The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of
technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical
communication at NASA.
presentations have become ubiquitous in corporate boardrooms and business
meetings. Textbook publishers try to hook teachers by offering CDs crammed with
prepackaged PowerPoint slides. Student presenters snort up PowerPoint like a
fiend looking for a fix.
PowerPoint a blessing or a curse to an effective presentation? A
careful presenter can make the most of PowerPoint's strengths, but only with a
healthy dose of communicative discipline.
does best what it was first created to
do: Charts and Graphs.
in the 80’s, when the PC was born, chart programs like Harvard Graphics were an
easy way to make graphs that could be made into slides and transparencies.
Graphics started to include general presentation tips as a value-added service
to its users.
Windows took off, Microsoft began to develop PowerPoint as a windows-based
alternative to older programs like Harvard Graphics. Microsoft bundled
PowerPoint in its office suite, putting a presentation tool on desks around the
world. It was a wonderful solution in search of a problem. Microsoft added
content templates like a Zig Ziglar sales presentation or a Dale Carnegie
introduction. They added ease of use features to allow busy executives to spill
out slides like turning on a tap.
to PowerPoint, most executives now associate giving a presentation with
PowerPoint is not synonymous with presenting or teaching, with visual aids
or even with a computer projector. An effective presenter must be familiar with,
as Aristotle put it 2500 years ago, “all the available means of persuasion.” (Rhetoric,
understand these means, first consider the other things you can do with a
can project a piece of software for a demonstration or a student problem:
SPSS, LearningSpace, Word, Excel.
can project a web page for discussion or analysis.
can project an animation from an encyclopedia or reference source.
can project a single quotation for discussion.
can project a white board that allows for more freeform discussion.
may take some planning to work out these elements, but effective teaching
always takes planning.
you are going to use PowerPoint, you need a firm grasp of it’s strengths and weaknesses.
works best for things that are presented visually, not verbally. It helps when
you need to draw a picture.
delivered over multiple
channels is more efficient than
communication over a single channel. Multiple channels make it more likely that
the whole message will be received. An appropriate picture adds another channel.
in memory by making a visual
connection to an abstract idea.
rests on connections.
vivid picture forms a solid connection.
makes it easy
to create visuals, and, by using
a template, make it easy to be consistent.
however, has notable weaknesses.
can easily be abused.
too easy to create slides. Because you can crank them out quickly, you make
far more than are appropriate for the presentation.
wastes time. You can suck up precious time tweaking a presentation. “It’s
like alcohol in the hands of a drunk,” says a presentation coach in Greenville.
One military advisor from Duke University said that the U.S. military, instead
of getting our allies to use PowerPoint, should give it to the Iraqis. “We’d
never have to worry about them again” (WSJ,
April 26, 2000).
takes too much control away from the presenter. It makes it too easy to
start the presentation with PowerPoint instead of starting with ideas and using
PowerPoint to reinforce them.
is the same problem Kenneth
Burke discussed when reviewing Machiavelli’s The
Prince: “by treating the book [The
Prince] as a manual of ‘administrative rhetoric,’ we can place the stress
where it belongs: on the problem of the orator’s ability to choose the act best
suited to the situation, rather than choosing the act best suited to the
expression of his own nature [or available technology].”
makes for ugly presentations. Most people are not trained in design. The
computer puts tools in average hands that were once reserved only for artists.
The result is ugly presentations.
can actually impede attention. Military analysts conjecture that recent
appropriations from Capitol Hill have stalled because Congress cannot decipher
the Army’s complex and tedious slides (WSJ,
April 26, 2000).
lends itself to unnecessary competition. Presenters—particularly students—become
distracted with “dueling PowerPoint.”
does not lend itself to spontaneous discussions in
the classroom or boardroom. It is heavily scripted and is not a tool for
does not handle text well.
general rule for PowerPoint text is no more than three lines of text on a slide
and no more than 6 words per line.
if you try to put a lot of text in a presentation, you have to move through a
lot of slides. The rapid movement does nothing to aid the presentation. Instead
it detracts from the message.
too easily becomes a replacement for the presenter, not a reinforcement.
Instead of a visual aid for the speaker, the speaker becomes an audio aid for
the slides. This strips the presentation of some of it’s most essential appeals.
rely too much on the slides for structure. Clear
structure should still be part of the verbal presentation even with visual aids.
The aids should reinforce the structure, not replace it. This is particularly
troublesome for student presentations since students need to learn how to
communicate structure verbally without visuals. If they rely on visuals for
structure, they never learn how to do it themselves.
fail to establish the connections necessary to make their message memorable.They
often rely too much on the visual slide to make the connection and neglect
repetition, examples, metaphors and other devices that make a message memorable. Read
more about the importance of connection and memory in learning, along with some
practical memory tips.
fail to establish ethos, their most powerful appeal.
is the personal appeal of the speaker. It is classified by Aristotle as an
“artistic proof” that the speaker fashions in his presentation.
involves both verbal and nonverbal elements of the message and must be carefully
managed for a presentation to succeed.
PowerPoint, however, many of the elements that establish ethos are blunted or
don’t look at the audience and the audience doesn’t look at the speaker.
subtle nonverbal cues are lost such as eye-contact, posture, etc.
tend to be read off the slide or handouts flattening delivery.
would go so far as to say that almost all business presentations given with
PowerPoint, with a little extra work, would be better—even much better—without
business presenters will say that effective presentations without PowerPoint may
be possible, but they don’t have the time to learn these other methods.
they are saying, in effect, is that they do not want to take a little time to
maximize a critical business resource, but are content with inefficient methods.
Orwell’s suggestion that bad language is linked to laziness applies to
the abuse of PowerPoint in corporate communication. “This invasion of one’s mind
by ready-made phrases can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard
against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.” We
simply don’t want to work at words. We allow ready-made PowerPoint slides think
our thoughts for us.
presenters feel that PowerPoint helps keep the audience’s attention.
PowerPoint simply masks the fact that the presentation does not have enough
intrinsic attention factors in itself.
other words, an effective presentation should keep the audience’s attention
without depending on visuals. The visuals should be aids, not commanders. They
should reinforce the attention factors already present in the presentation. Read
more about attention factors in presentations.
you use PowerPoint, keep these tips in mind.
Let your purpose be your guide. Out of all the things you could say or show,
choose the things you should say and show to accomplish your purpose. Read
more about developing a purpose for a presentation.
Remember to consider “all the available means of persuasion.” There are many
kinds of visual aids; chose the one that’s best (not the one that came bundled
with your computer.) Read
more about tips and options for visual aids in general.
fit: Use PowerPoint when it makes sense and resist the temptation to use
it too often.
PowerPoint primarily for conveying a simple, generally informative message to a
large group of people. It falters with deliberative messages or discussions with
PowerPoint for visual information. Do not use it for handouts, even though
Microsoft has made it easy to do so.
often people develop what’s really a handout,” says Gaily Brickman, a consultant
in Milwaukee. “I help them differentiate between a handout and presentation
slides.” Handouts can provide extensive background, but slides, by contrast,
should be brief and to the point; an audience member should be able to get the
gist in one glance.
Keep the number of slides to a minimum. Use a few graphics that convey
explicitly visual information or that stand as metaphors for ideas. Remember
the general guidelines for using visual aids.
this discussion from www.presentations.com.
Any good presentation will have the presenter as its prime focus, he says;
visuals should be used sparingly and only to reinforce the speaker’s
credibility. How sparingly? To answer this question, Morgan tells the story of a
client who started at a pace of one slide per minute (not unusual in the
corporate world, he says) for a speech that could go up to three hours. After
working with him for six months, Morgan gradually pared the client down to one
single slide — albeit one with six pictures that could be highlighted in various
ways throughout the speech.
“It liberated him,” Morgan says. In fact, once the client broke his slide
habit, he tripled his speaking fee.
If one slide every three hours seems a bit spartan to you, remember that
expecting an audience to simultaneously absorb information from the ear and the
eye is a demonstrably inefficient way of getting your message across, Morgan
says. And when you add another bad habit, printing your slides and handing them
out ahead of time, “that’s the worst sin — you’re asking your audience to do
three things at once.”
using slides for text.
the philosophy of architect Mies van der Rohe: “Less is more”
Remember to build your ethos throughout the presentation.
PowerPoint judiciously for a few
key graphics or illustrations.
text slides. Use text occasionally as a reference point for big ideas; e.g.
the three main objectives of a lesson.
iii. Remember other
kinds of visuals. Handouts may be a more appropriate alternative.
be seduced by textbook publishers
that offer canned presentations that go with a textbook. Youare
the teacher. Not the publisher. Not the textbook. You make
careful choices of what to use and what to avoid. A lot of what the publishers
include is of little value.
using PowerPoint for discussion or coaching sessions. In his Paedia
Proposal, Mortimer Adler contends that most teachers are well-versed in
giving lectures, a few know how to coach, but even fewer know how to lead a
discussion. PowerPoint plays to our lecture habit. It does not facilitate
spontaneous discussion or discovery.
vi. Whatever media you use
in the classroom, work to help
students make connections.
connections is the foundation of memory and ingenuity. The
Latin term ingenium refers
to the ability to make connections between things that others may not see. Read
more about memory and making connections.
learn as they make connections. An efficient use of visuals in the classroom can
help students make connections between parts and the whole, between cause and
effect, between problem and solution, between principle and practice.
students to be strategic communicators. Out
of all the things they could say, they should choose what they should say to do
students to give a PowerPoint presentation can reinforce bad habits.
Emphasize the basics of clear structure, solid attention factors, audience
adaptation and ethos with or without PowerPoint.
students to rely on PowerPoint may be preparing them to enter a business
world that has grown beyond it.
ii. Teach students to consider
“all the available means of persuasion:” other
forms of visual aids, other means of persuasion.
students to build their ethos.
students to make structure clear without
students to master the means of persuasion—not
to be mastered by Microsoft’s notion of presentations.
Here are some samples you can pick apart.