PowerPoint pain

Give the viewer something interesting to look at, but pack your punch with the content in your message. Don't write that entire message on the slide

Recently I was asked to produce some PowerPoint slides. They were intended as a "teacher resource" to accompany a textbook that's due for release in a couple of months. I wasn't the author of the text, but was being asked to develop "standard teaching resources" that was based on it". So that prompted me to have a look at other recent texts and their accompanying teacher resources and find out what was considered the "standard".

I found PowerPoint was the main tool being used for this kind of textbook accompaniment, either compressed to a CD or uploaded to a secure website of the publishing house. There were a few variations but they usually followed the same formula – each chapter had eight to 10 slides of text chunked into bullet points. In other words, they were all just full of writing.


Who teaches like that? Imagine being a student and sitting there as teacher after teacher shows slides full of writing! I hope this version of torture certainly isn't the standard.

So, while these are merely my personal opinions, I offer the following list for the most effective ways of using PowerPoint to accompany a textbook:

Justine's tips to avoid PowerPoint pain

1. PowerPoint is not meant to be a rehash of the text. If it's in print somewhere else, don't repeat it for those who were too lazy to read it. That's what a chapter summary is for.

2. Good facilitators will use PowerPoint to invoke higher thought and deeper meaning. The questions posed by a good facilitator may not even appear in a book. Questions should draw relevance to the here and now and seek context of understanding – not just be a comprehension exercise. More importantly, an answer may be complex or layered - perhaps not a simple "text book answer".

3. When using PowerPoint, the most important aspect the viewers see is the diagram. The most important thing they hear is you (the facilitator). Give the viewer something interesting to look at, but pack your punch with the content in your message. Don't write that entire message on the slide – the message should be personal and speak to the recipient. For sure, you might ask each person to write down what is relevant for them in their own words. If teachers constantly shape the thoughts of their students, we leave little room for creativity and close the door on challenges to didactic thinking.

4. Consider when and how your PowerPoint display is going to be used. Is it for a face-to-face group? Is it for distance students? Will the students access it before the class (in preparation), during the class (as a follow-along-with-me), or after the class (as a summary)? Or is it primarily for students who can't attend? For me, each of these intentions requires a different approach. I don't think one PowerPoint display should be used for all.

5. Good facilitation will always draw on multiple viewpoints and sources. Seek a wide range of tools and opinions. Good research is critical and visual variety goes a long way.

6. (and possibly most importantly) don't be afraid to limit yourself to PowerPoint. There are plenty of engaging presentation and sharing tools out there. My personal favourites include Prezi, Slideshare, Empressr, and most recently the Australian Start-up Canva.

Unless of course, you'd rather stick with the ‘text book standard'.