How to use PowerPoint properly

This post is related to one of my previous posts, Why PowerPoint is evil.

Firstly, a disclaimer. I am not an expert in giving presentations. I don’t think my words have a lot of authority in relation to this particular subject. There are better places on the Internet (and outside it) for that, such as:

Use PowerPoint for visual aids only, not for text

Cognitive load theory suggests that presentating the same information in the same manner in multiple forms is not conducive to learning. This is because working memory is overloaded in trying to process all the information.

That leaves us with two options:

  • presenting different information at the same time (why do you want to do that?), or
  • presenting the same information in a different manner at the same time (which is what your probably want)

And so you should reserve PowerPoint slides to contain only visual aids, like graphs, tables, diagrams, photographs, equations, URLs and the like. Avoid text and bullet points where possible.

This means, of course, that you will need to put your notes elsewhere, instead of just reading from the slides. How you do that is up to you.

It’s OK to have blank slides

Reserving PowerPoint slides for only visual aids means that you are going to have a lot fewer slides than what you would have previously, leading to a lot of places in your presentation where there wouldn’t be anything to show.

Don’t worry. It’s OK not to show anything. Our predecessors have been doing it for centuries. Let the audience focus on you while you’re speaking.

Don’t give out slide packs; use proper handouts

Printouts from the slides are not likely to be helpful to your audience if you only have visual aids as slides. This means that you will need to prepare a separate set of handouts to the audience.

It sounds like a lot of work, but in many cases, your notes would be sufficient. However, for more technical topics, chances are that a properly prepared paper or report will be more appreciated by the audience. Making technical decisions on the basis of PowerPoint slide packs is dangerous.

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