How To Do PowerPoint (If You Must!)

Some of you have asked that I address PowerPoint presentations as many of you are assigned the task of preparing them for your own organization.

As I have stated previously, PowerPoint presentations are NOT training tools. At best, they convey information, although their effectiveness in doing even that is limited.

Its most favorable characteristics are its ease of use and the short learning curve required. Unfortunately, those same characteristics result in questionable informational practices. Too often, it quickly becomes a substitute for blackboard or whiteboard presentations. This, of course, runs the danger of encouraging listeners to sit passively through your presentation as they quickly believe that they have now “got the notes.” Obviously, that results in poor pedagogical practice since all well designed presentations should encourage active learner participation.

Knowing the severe limitations of PowerPoint presentations yet being assigned to create them by your own organization, what should you do?

Ideally, you need to augment your PowerPoint presentation with other user-controlled media – media that are designed to actually teach. Your PowerPoint presentation can then perform a service by serving as either an introduction or as an overview of the real training being presented.

CD-ROMs and e-learning will serve that purpose as will hands-on exercises. These are learner-participatory tools and, therefore, your trainees will be able to learn by becoming active in the learning process.

Your PowerPoint presentation, ideally used as an adjunct, should then be designed to grab and hold the attention of your students. Keep bulleted short phrases on the slide (no paragraphs or long sentences). Where possible, intermix graphs, photos, video slices, and animations throughout the presentation. And, if you do so carefully, selective audio for emphasis can also help contribute to a more interesting presentation.

But always remember that PowerPoint was designed as a presentation tool and NOT as a training tool. You’ve got several good options that you can use for effective learning. And if you design your PowerPoint presentations to be the bridge into genuine training, you will have accomplished all you can with that very limited tool.

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning