PowerPoint don’t kill presentations, people do.

As a designer working in an academic environment you are used to sit in presentations and get a badly designed PowerPoint presentation which at best distracts from the speech someone is giving. I know this is happening all the time and why bother? Well, I can tell you why.

There has been a lot of PowerPoint bashing everywhere, simply because you sit in presentations and people tend to make the same mistakes all over again. But what I experienced yesterday really took the biscuit. I was at some sort ceremonial act for a new center for didactics in higher education at the university and four keynote speakers were supposed to give presentations on various topics.

Ok, step back and think about the following words: keynote speakers, didactics, higher education, ceremonial act. Did you let them sink in? Keep them in mind for later, let’s move on.

They did just about everything wrong that you always try to get across to students who take your courses in which you try to tell them how to hold a good presentation. How it should be well structured and how you should only use PowerPoint if it really illustrates what you have to say and if it does not distract from what you are saying, among several other things. Now, here is what they did.

The first one had created a PP presentation which was so full of typographical and design related errors that I can’t even begin to list them all. Think about indents, think about lists, think about picture quality, think about certain colors (red) on certain colors (green), and a lot more. Every slide was a different kind of mess. It either had been created in ten minutes or without any care.

The second speaker is out because he didn’t use PP. (It was actually the most pleasant speech I heard this day. Not least because he didn’t use PP.)

The third one had a quite pleasant selection of colors which mainly consisted of shades of gray. The slides were so crammed with diagrams, tables, lists, more diagrams and so on, that it was hard to follow the presentation because it took so much time to read the stuff. At least on the first two slides, because after that I gave up reading and listening. Additionally, the speaker sped up the presentation a bit to catch up some time the speaker before her had overrun. So she flipped through the slides leaving a trace of letters in everybody’s eyes.

The third speaker used Comic Sans throughout the presentation. Need I say more? I will, just in case someone will say, why is that so grave an issue. Using Comic Sans is a problem when you hold a presentation in front of two hundred people from the university who are either from the highest ranks in administration, or are professors, or are member of teaching staff anyway. Plus, your presentation is about a highly sophisticated piece of research, even if it’s got to do something with learning. It is not a problem, if hold your presentation in front of two hundred ten-year-olds.

Ok, now can you remember the words I pointed out before? What does this tell us? All of these speakers have gone through the whole of an academic career, all of them were professors, and none of them cared to use PowerPoint the way it’s supposed to be used? Or let’s be less intentionally: they didn’t know how to.

Am I being unfair? Am I too picky when it comes to these things? I think not. Years after years we tried to teach our students how to do all these things right and now we are being confronted with staff that tries to teach staff how to do these things right and they fail to follow the simplest rules you need to know when using PP. This cannot be. Just take a little more time to follow rules or have someone else do it for you. Don’t be ashamed to ask someone.

This article will also be published in the all new and soon to come website ELearning-Blog.org

2 Gedanken zu “PowerPoint don’t kill presentations, people do.

  1. I cannot commment on the presentations since I haven’t seen them, but here is something I found about your pet hate „Comic Sans“:
    To support my hypothesis, that women like the font because of its rounded shape (we connect easier with these cold machines called computers if they come in nice shapes or at least the fonts on them), I will conduct a little survey in my circle of friends. I’ll let you know about the results 😉

  2. Pingback: Medienproduktion: Design Regeln visualisieren « Alexander Sperl’s Weblog

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