The Need for the Effective Use of PowerPoint

Thursday 09 January 2014 22:12:36

Dr. Angus Munro

The use of an LCD with a Powerpoint presentation is very much the expected thing for many UC lecturers and their students, as elsewhere. It is seen to be the essence of effective communication and professionalism, despite the fact that it can even now be only used in certain situations (and it ignores the fact that such communication was possible in pre-Microsoft days). Moreover googling for “death by powerpoint” or “powerpoint abuse and misuse” turns up many links: most people do not use Powerpoint properly as a presentation tool.

Thus many people use Powerpoint as a ‘prop’ to try and make up for their lack of communication skills on presenting on a particular topic, rather than trying to properly develop the basic soft skills: they put up large swathes of text and just read from it along with their ‘audience’ (why not just give them a copy and ask them to go to a café or wherever to read it?). Others put up large tables or complex flow charts or whatever, which might look impressive but are too information-dense. The fact that many in the US military have a poor opinion of Powerpoint indicates that the problem is a more general one than just in Academia!

A compilation of resources on effective use can be found at http://tinyurl.com/8jya8gr. Basically, it is a case of thinking about others’ of enlightenment about the topic for presentation: ease of preparation (including the time involved) for the presenter should be a secondary consideration.

The following suggestions for faculty and students are based on personal experience (including at UC) and a selection of useful guidelines (note that UC plans to introduce workshops which cover these and other issues).

  1. Do not put up a screen full of text and then just read it out loud: use graphs, tables, photos, or just bullet points of the most important points and then expand on them: the audience can take notes (i.e. they are active participants, not passive ones, and are thus developing an important soft skill).
  2. Do not go too fast, but give time so that they can take notes but also can think about what you are saying and ask questions.
  3. Do not put all bullet points, etc., up at once: the audience will be too busy looking and reading all of them rather than listening to you.
  4. Make sure slides can be read, including by those who are red-green colour-blind.
  5. Be professional and avoid various ‘gimmicks’ – what is important is the message itself, not the template or other distractions … this is a University, after all, not a sales-pitch.
  6. Provide recaps and summaries of the important points at various stages of the presentation, or ask the audience to do so, to make sure they have been paying attention and have the opportunity to ask questions where not clear.
  7. Look at the presentations of others and learn how you can improve, not just from the good ones but also those which are bad.

Faculty who set presentations as an assignment are expected to require the students involved to also submit a written component, to make sure that they not only produce a proper full text on the topic (rather than just a series of bullet-points) but also have an adequate understanding of it and can answer questions from the audience at their presentation: an important component of the overall assessment. This hopefully ensures that all members of the class learn from the experience.

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