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.

Pictorial information is processed on a different channel in the brain – the visual channel. Pictures may illuminate what is being said but they don’t create static on the same wavelength that written words do. Instead, they memorably reinforce information – like dramatic mnemonic devices.

Think outside the PowerPoint template.

So, kill all your PowerPoint bullets and think of each slide as the blank canvas of a storyboard. Admittedly, it takes lots of thought, work and practice. You have to have your content down cold since you’ll be using your PowerPoint not as a teleprompter but as a riveting picture book that drives your verbal points into the visual memory of learners.

Here are 3 books for creating dramatic PowerPoint presentations that will sear your message into the hearts and minds of learners. Plus, they’re great eye candy.

  • Presentation Zen and Presentation Zen Design by Garr Reynolds.
  • slide:ology – the art and science of creating great presentations by Nancy Duarte.

And here’s a good, FREE PowerPoint presentation on what we’ve been talking about -- It uses a lot less text than my previous average PowerPoint presentations -- and it doesn’t even have a speaker. As its creator notes in the show, if he was using the presentation in a talk, he’d eliminate 90% of the text.

One way.

I approach PowerPointing completely different now. I word process my instructor outline first. That’s my script. It gets shorter and shorter the more I rehearse and learn my lines until it’s just skeletal prompts.

This is my security blanket. If I get caught up in a discussion and forget where we left off when the discussion began and where I wanted us to go next, it’s there for me. It makes me feel safe to follow my learners into deep water knowing I have a life line back to the boat.

I’m not against using the Notes Page view in PowerPoint instead of my word processed outline. It just doesn’t work for me personally. I can’t read the Notes Page view print on my small travel laptop without donning my “cheaters.” Having to go bend over my laptop and squint through reading glasses for a cue is not only disruptive, it’s uncool. I can wander over to my Arial 16 font crib sheet and glance at it an offhand way as the need arises. 

After I’ve scripted my training, I begin to storyboard it with PowerPoint. I start with a blank layout – no cookie cutter templates for me anymore. Every background is solid black. I may have a title slide that is mainly a photographic image. Then I think about what images dramatically illustrate my chunks of information.

There are other great looking backgrounds. In PowerPoint 2010, click on

  • File
  • New
  • Sample templates

For just a few. While in Sample templates, check out Duarte’s “Five Rules (for Creating Great Presentations).” View it in Slide Show with your volume on and see some excellent ideas for making your PowerPoint presentations engaging and helpful to learners. Or watch it on youtube at the link below.

There are plenty of sources for images that dramatically support and illustrate your content. I still have credits I purchased at and but I’ve recently discovered “google images.” When you type in search terms and are delivered photographic images, you’re warned that they may be copyrighted. I’ve linked two articles below I’ve written on copyright and the fair use exception. DISCLAIMER – Those articles are not intended as legal advice.

Included are slide sorter views of a PowerPoint presentation of mine that I constructed under the old PowerPointing mindset and then the one I re-did with the brain science in mind discussed in this and my previous article. Slide sorter is actually a good reality check for whether your PowerPoint is a good storyboard or boring, text-laden cue cards. Thanks to my editor, Frank Borelli, you can also find links below to these presentations.

If you think a viewer doesn’t get all the information from my re-vamped version – you’re right. They need me. But they will be engaged to listen, remember and act much more by the revised PowerPoint.

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