Thursday, August 21, 2008

Throw away your PowerPoint slides, go on, I dare you!

I went to hear Richard Stallman talk a couple of days ago about copyright. Whilst I did not necessarily agree with everything he said, I was totally engaged with him and his speech for over two hours.

Presentation skills

The thing was struck me about this speech was that Richard used absolutely no visual aids and definitely no PowerPoint slides - he just stood and talked. The presentation aids and skills Richard used which so thoroughly captured my attention were humor, enthusiasm, expert knowledge of his subject and the occasional radical, 'shocking' pronouncement. The other thing he did was use unpretentious, lay language that I could understand - he didn't try to blind with science.

Using PowerPoint to give presentations
Leigh Blackall, who also went to hear Richard, commented on this very same thing, remarking to me that 'we' should be ashamed at the way we rely on PowerPoint slides when we give presentations. I immediately countered that it's alright for someone like Stallman - he is a very experienced speaker and probably gives the same talk time and time again. Leigh left me with this thought: "But aren't all teachers?"

Picking up the gauntlet?
There's no doubt about it, PowerPoint can be a crutch for presenters and can make the most boring speech even more boring. And I shall never forget the feedback students gave me after a session I ran where the computer didn't work and I had to abandon my PowerPoint slides and use a whiteboard - they thought it was one of the best session I had ever presented.

I have tried to change the way I use PowerPoint from slide after slide of bullet points to using images only. And I think that is working quite well. So I am reluctant to give up my PowerPoint slides altogether. But at the same time, it has been really useful for me to reflect on my presentation style and remind myself of the importance of keeping things simple and entertaining.

Do you use PowerPoint when giving presentations - how do you get on? What do you think are key presentation skills?

Image: 'The Evilution of Communication' Torley


M-H said...

I had a colleague once who used to moan "Where's the power? What's the point?" Whenever anyone used PP. But I have used it to deliver audio files of my participants' words, without putting the whole text on the screen - just one sentence up there to highlight the main point they are making in the grab. Also, I have used it to make simple animations in an electronic poster presentation.

But a lot of the use that is made of it is complete rubbish. I have seen whole presentations, line by line, up on the screen while the participant read them off the computer screen for us. ::snore::

Sarah Stewart said...

Oh, I know, m-h, just the worse thing!

Lisa Barrett said...

I do lots of public speaking and have never used a power point. They are so boring that everyone just switches off. Well I do so why wouldn't they?
I use actual images if want to potray something and props, ths seems to be popular.Just talking seems to do the trick if what you say is engaging.

Sarah Stewart said...

I know you are 100% right but....I just am so wedded to my slides, even if they are mostly just images - must work harder to do it!

Anonymous said...

I am so bored when lecturers just read off the powerpoint exactly what they have written is the lecture. There is no point going to class esp. when the powerpoints are then posted online!

The pictures are a great idea....I def prefer when you are drawn and attentive due to having to listen!

Sarah Stewart said...

You're absolutely right, anonymous, and I think the key as a speaker is to be thoroughly prepared and enthusiastic about the topic so you don't have to rely on a prop.

infomidwife said...

I like to use powerpoint, but have changed the way I use it over the years. I now use less words and more images: I have key points and never read of the slide: the slide is there for the students but as a prompt for me: what I talk about relates to the slide:
I do think that if you know your stuff and present in an excited, passioate way you really do not need the powerpoint, but I use it as a promt, key points & background images.

Sarah Stewart said...

@infomidwife: that's pretty much where I am at these days. My brain just isn't what it used to be, and unlike Richard, I cannot go without some sort of prompt. So I'd rather use a colorful or thoughtful image on a slide to prompt me, than a note on a piece of paper.

The only thing I have thought of about taking the minimalist approach to slides: I like to share my slides on 'Slideshare' . But without any text, people won't know what the slideshow is about. But I guess I can always add text or audio to the slides before I publish them.

Anonymous said...

i think powerpoint has made my students lazy - they expect a textbook recital - which i find really boring to provide. I got feedback on an evaluation once that my slides didn't have enough info on them for when they went to study - compared to other lecturers - mine tended to ask questions rather than provide answers so a couple of students criticised that. So I dunno...

Sarah Stewart said...

When I am teaching undergrads, I use scenarios to get them to think & integrate their knowledge to clinical situations. I like the PowerPoint slides because it is easy to add images that add a context or illustration to the scenario.

David McQuillan said...

I'm definitely a fan of using PPT to present images and diagrams, but I can't stand it when someone presents a set of bullet points. I'd prefer if they just talked.

However, finding the right images can sometimes take some time compared to the use of text, so I can understand why people do it.

Some of my earlier power point presentations were pretty text-heavy, and I have to admit to using them from time to time when I don't have time to update them. (hangs head in shame)

Sarah Stewart said...

I looked at some old slides shows I did the other day and they are excruciatingly embarrassing!