3 Reasons To Ditch Your PowerPoint Slides

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PowerPoint and Keynote slides are often so terrible that ditching them completely would go a long way in helping presenters connect with audiences.  I was taking a lazy Sunday nap and read an article on NPR called “Physicists, Generals, and CEOs Agree: Ditch The PowerPoint.”  The article makes three fascinating points on why we should get rid of those slides completely:

PowerPoint gets in the way of discussion

A team of physicists banned PowerPoint and forced presenters to use a whiteboard instead.  In their experience, people who used PowerPoint slides were tethered to those slides, and when it came time for group discussion, presenters couldn’t move beyond their slides (Source).  After watching thousands of presentations, I’ve come to the realization that unless presenters learn how to properly use Keynote or PowerPoint, they should ditch the slideshow completely.  In my class, students present team “Mini Discussions” with the goal of informing us about a particular topic and engaging us in a class activity.  I’ve banned slides for this presentation, and I’ve found that we can have a more natural, human conversation in class on each Mini Discussion topic.

PowerPoint is boring

Molecular biologist John Medina has released a series of Brain Rules books.  Medina tells us that the brain can’t pay attention to boring things.  According to his website, “What we pay attention to is profoundly influenced by memory. Our previous experience predicts where we should pay attention. Whether in school or in business, these differences can greatly affect how an audience perceives a given presentation” (Source).

Author Alan Yu’s interview subjects agree.  John Paul Chou, a physics professor at Rutgers, believes that “the main advantage of forgoing PowerPoint is that it forces both the speaker and the listener to pay attention.  With PowerPoint, he says, it’s ‘easier to let your mind go on autopilot and you start to lose focus more easily’” (Source).

I agree.  I’ve been in dozens of meetings, leadership trainings, and board retreats where as soon as the presenter flipped on the PowerPoint, everyone in the audience tuned out.  Since we’ve seen so many bad presentations with slides, our brains are comfortable shutting down as soon as we see the slideshow.  In many cases, the material was important and could have been interesting.

You can tell if your slideshow presentation went over well, and this lead us back to the first point of the NPR article.  If you give your presentation and no one has any questions, you sucked.  If you present your slides and no one has a single thing to offer, to contribute, to discuss, to ask, or to say when you’re finished, your presentation was bad.

PowerPoint is lazy

John Paul Chou of Rutgers “says the problem is simply that ‘we’re so used to giving PowerPoint [presentations] that we forget there are other means of communicating’” (Source).  Consider this: BusinessWeek estimates “350 PowerPoint presentations are given each second across the globe” (Source).  That’s an estimated 30 million PowerPoints every day.  How many of those 30 million presentations actually needed slides?  PowerPoint is the lazy way out, and its purpose is hazy.  Why did those presenters even use slides in the first place?  Could he or she have gone without the slide medium completely?  Could the presenter have done something different?

We also see people use PowerPoint as their speaking notes.  Instead of using the medium properly, a presenter will type all of his/her main points on the slide.  This is lazy.  World-renowned presentation experts Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds tell us that speaking notes belong to the presenter only, and PowerPoint slides should visually reinforce the content.  John Medina explains why: “Vision trumps all other senses.  We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.  Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time” (Source).

Take a look at Nancy Duarte’s “How To Create Better Visual Presentations”

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Learn more about all things effective slide design here.  In the meantime, like NPR’s experts, Medina also suggests we ditch PowerPoint.  He says, “Toss your PowerPoint presentations. It’s text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads—all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Burn your current PowerPoint presentations” (Source).

What are additional reasons why presenters should ditch those PowerPoint slides?

John Medina’s Brain Rule #12: Exploration

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John Medina’s Brain Rules is one of my favorite books because of its importance for a superteacher.  I use these concepts in my classroom.  The rest of the Brain Rules title is 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.  Medina’s book covers these twelve rules, and the video below is about his twelfth rule is on curiosity and exploration:

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Medina references education as it relates to curiosity and exploration.  When it comes to transferring information between people, whether you are teaching or presenting, we must realize our goal is brain development.  In order to develop the brains of our audience members, we must understand how the brain works.

Education is meant to be exploration… the satiation of curiosity.  Why, then, are classrooms and lectures so boring?!  My students and I talked about that today, on the first day of Professional Communication and Presentation.  One student named Luis suggested that boring lectures are directed by people who don’t care about the audience they’re directing.  I think that is true, but I also think that boring lecturer could transform into a superteacher if he or she is committed to understanding how the brain works so as to better transfer knowledge to his or her audience.

Superteachers: Has Brain Rules influenced the way you teach your students?  What is your favorite rule from Medina’s book?

Currently Reading…

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It’s always a brighter day when I come home and find those beautiful blue library packages on my doorstep. Since Tropical Storm Beryl brought in lots of rain for Central Florida this week, I am also thankful the library uses rain-resistant sleeves when delivering books.

Here’s what I’ll be reading this weekend:

The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant At A Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry.  Since this book has a quote from Seth Godin referencing my favorite book of Godin’s, Linchpin, I decided to check it out.  Henry’s book is about the creative process and developing habits to promote creativity and enhance creative output.  When I was browsing the reviews on Amazon, I noticed that many reviewers praised this book for working across careers for anyone who creates for a living.  I can’t wait to dive in!

The Secret Language of Leadership by Stephen Denning has a subtitle that hooked me: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative.  After re-reading Resonate again last week, Duarte has me wholeheartedly convinced on the power of storytelling and narrative to transform presentations and educational experiences.  I’m hoping this book will allow me to be a stronger public speaker, lecturer, and teacher for my students by mastering the art of the narrative.

Tom Kelley’s The Art of Innovation with Jonatahn Littman is surprisingly heavy!  Its glossy pages make me wonder if this was designed to be a class textbook… I decided to check out this book after watching David Kelley’s TED Talk on building creative confidence.  David Kelley is the founder and chairman of IDEO while brother Tom is IDEO’s general manager.  I look forward to learning more about the IDEO company while reading more about design and innovation.

I stumbled upon Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism by accident while researching for the fourth installment in my superteachers series: an argument that superteachers must be optimistic.  I decided it was important to teach others how to be optimistic if this wasn’t an inherent trait, and I found Seligman’s text quickly after determining my path for that future blog post…

Brain Rules by John Medina was the final book on my doorstep.  Garr Reynolds introduced me to this book with a 2008 blog post called “Brain rules for PowerPoint & Keynote presenters.”  I’m convinced learning more about the brain can help me explain visual design and visual presentation in a way that connects with and is accepted by a wider audience.

What books are you reading this weekend?