Your PowerPoint Doesn’t Have to Suck

The typical PowerPoint flat lines learner’s brains. Val Van Brocklin explains and shows in simple-to-follow steps how you can make Oscar-winning presentations that get viewers to LISTEN and REMEMBER. Simple? Yes. But lazy trainers need not apply.

Previously on

Last month in How PowerPoint Kills Learning we looked at the brain science which proves that the text-laden manner in which PowerPoint is almost universally used actually impedes learning. If you’re interested in that science, the link is below.

What PowerPoint suck looks and sounds like.

PowerPoint is ass backwards when it comes to designing an effective presentation because it’s designed to assist the presenter rather than the learner.  We've all seen typical powerpoint slides which effectively outline what the presenter wants to say; not necessarily what the presenter wants the listeners to hear or learn.

Designer Garr Reynolds calls these monstrosities “slideuments” – an attempt to merge documents with slides.

Worse yet, these slideuments are invariably read by the presenter. I admit I used to. The software invites you to proceed like this. But, as I explained last month, putting the same information on a slide in text for learners’ eyes that is coming out of our mouths for their ears in fact jumbles our message.

Once sucked into a PowerPoint template, the presenter gets a double whammy reward. First, you don’t have to actually learn, retain and rehearse what you’re going to teach because you can just read it from your slideuments. Second, you can print them out as a handout – so you don’t have to separately prepare that either. Sound familiar?

Here’s the HUGE problem. This design approach is all about YOU, the presenter, and what you’re going to say. It has nothing to do with the learners and what they’re going to LISTEN to, REMEMBER, or be inspired to ACT on.

And here’s a HUGE question:

If learners can basically get what they need to know by reading your PowerPoint, why do they need you?

We don’t have to ditch PowerPoint altogether. I haven’t. But we do have to shoot all the bullet points and we have to think outside PowerPoint’s presenter-centered software.

Think outside the PowerPoint “presenter-centric” box.

Forget about using your PowerPoint presentation as your handout or as your cue cards. Hard to imagine? Then you’re misusing it. I speak from experience.

Instead, think of actually writing an Oscar-winning training script – one that will hook your learners’ attention, keep them engaged, and inspire them to act on what you’ve presented. Then storyboard it. Storyboards are a series of images arranged in sequence for purposes of illustrating a narrative.   

Some folks recommend you storyboard first and then write the narrative. It works better for me the other way around but I think this step order is less important than you coming to see PowerPoint as a visual aid for your learners rather than as speaker’s notes and a handout for you. It should illustrate and dramatize your narrative – not replicate or outline it.

Anything that needs to be replicated, such as

  • In-class exercises or scenarios
  • A study guide for a test
  • Additional recommended resources

Should be in a handout separately designed for that purpose.

A picture is worth a thousand yada yadas.

Your ideas and information are much more likely to be remembered if they are accompanied by pictures instead of words. The pictorial representation of ideas is such an accepted powerful way of reinforcing information that psychologists have given it a name – Picture Superiority Effect or PSE.

According to John Medina, author of the acclaimed book brain rules and a molecular biologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, pictures work better than text for reinforcing spoken information because pictures don’t compete with the speaker.

When we read text it is processed verbally not visually - we hear a voice in our head. You’re hearing a voice right now as you read these words. That’s okay for reading. But if the text is on a presenter’s slide, the reader’s inner voice is chattering the same time the presenter is speaking.

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