FoTT Conf 2009: No-Doze PowerPoint — Tips and Tricks

My second session for the morning is No-Doze PowerPoint–Tips and Tricks, presented by Andrea Compton of St. Charles Community College. I guess the idea is to provide ideas on how to make PowerPoint presentations more interesting through interactivity and storytelling. Dr. Klaus Woelk at Missouri S&T is pretty good about this. He likes to introduce the chemistry concept of stoichiometry using an analogy with a boardgame (I can’t remember what it is called, unfortunately).

PowerPoint presentation can be very boring. I, myself, am just as guilty as the next person in using boring presentations, so I am very interested in learning how to add some interest to a presentation.


“PowerPoint Doesn’t Kill Presentations — People Do”. People get bored quickly with PowerPoint presentations. They tend to assume that all of the information can be found on the slides. In many cases this is true, but not always. Effective presentations will complement the lecture, not replace it.

Basic Don’ts

  • Use too much text
  • Use too many bullets
  • Use too much animation — some may be helpful to illustrate a particular point (especially if the concept is inherently dynamic), but don’t overdo it
  • Use too many fonts
  • Don’t read from the screen — know your slides well enough that you can extemporize from the slides
  • Don’t give out your slides to your audience beforehand
  • Display too much data (chart elements)
  • Forget to use spell check (though spell check won’t catch every error)

In other words, too much of anything can be a problem, when it comes to PowerPoint. Moderation is key. All of the principles above are also good technical communication principles.

Basic Do’s

  • Creative introduction — this is the first impression you will have with your audience, so you want them to respond to you favorably
  • Visual medium — PowerPoint relies on visuals, so use them effectively
  • Prioritize bullets — Lead with the best information on the slide, eliminate unnecessary information
  • Use presentation slide handouts — note that this contradicts a basic don’t. However, for some audiences, handouts give the audience a handy place to take notes. They also have information, such as contact info and URLs that the audience may want to take away with them.
  • KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) — valuable advice for most endeavors in life, but especially with regards to PowerPoint
  • Creative summary — this is the last impression you will leave with your audience, so it should be memorable

Edgar Dale’s cone of learning:

After 2 weeks, we tend to remember:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we hear and see
  • 70% of what we say
  • 90% of what we say and do

Beyond Bullet Points (by Cliff Atkinson):

Use a storyboard approach. Tell a story with images that ultimately define a plot line. Use short bullets or no bullets at all. Use complete sentences as slide titles to help lay out your story line, complemented with images in the body of the slide.

Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck (by Rick Altman):

Control the pain…

  • Avoid 15-minute master — real easy to learn PowerPoint, but takes considerable effort to really master effective use of the slides
  • No busy or loud backgrounds
  • Use light text on dark backgrounds (or vice-versa)
  • Use 2-3 different fonts, max
  • No dizzying animations or multiple transitions

Office 2007 has a number of enhancements that improve the quality of how images are displayed in a PowerPoint presentation.

Action buttons in Office 2007 allow you to really add some interactivity to your presentation. TurningPoint 2008 is a plug-in to Office that give you the clicker capabilities to grade student performance and quiz students throughout the lecture.

Web sites can give you access to free images and free fonts (www.sxc.hu for images and www.dafont.com for fonts).

Jing is a free tool for image and video capture. It’s free for use. Camtasia (available for use at S&T, though there may be a license fee for use) is another video capture tool. PowerPoint action buttons can link to this type of content. Depending on how the video is encoded, it can also be embedded directly into a presentation.

Zamzar.com is a site that will help you convert your video files to be embedded into PowerPoint (*.wmv or *.avi are the best options for PowerPoint). Larger files will take longer to convert (up to several hours), though if you subscribe to the pay service, you may get the files quicker and will be able to convert larger files.

Andrea presented a number of other tools, such as PollEverywhere and SlideShare. Also PowerPoint 2010 will be coming out with even more enhancements to PowerPoint presentations.