Learnit Training

3. Powerpoint

Listening to a presentation is a strain on the audience's concentration. Keeping your attention is the key to getting your message across. You do this by varying your speaking, alternating ordinary information with stories and examples. The stories and examples make it easier for the audience to follow your story. It also gives you the chance to convey something of your passion and enthusiasm to the audience. You make it personal and take them in! More importantly, if you have the audience's attention, you can show them the importance of your presentation. If you can get the audience involved in your presentation, they will also find it easier to keep their attention on your story.

A picture says more than a thousand words. This is true. People learn and remember better when a talk is accompanied by images. People process the visual and verbal material through different channels. The brain is thus stimulated from several sides and is better able to structure the presentation for itself. However, do not overdo it with images: people can only keep their attention on a few pieces of information at a time. The image should clarify and/or represent your related story. If not, don't use it. Keep the image, as well as the structure of your talk, simple and clear.

Powerpoint can be used for images. However, this is rarely done. What does one do? Bulleted text with summaries of the presentation! Never, ever, use PowerPoint for text summaries! The most stupid thing is the use of summary slides which are then read out loud! It is incomprehensible that this happens so often. Where images clearly contribute to remembering and organising information, text does not at all. People remember better when they are told words, than when they have to read them. If they have to read along and are told the same thing, they don't know what to focus on and their attention inevitably wanders. It is as if they have two voices in their head, one voice of the presenter and their own voice reading along. Even if they are saying the same thing, listening to two people is not pleasant and does not help concentration. The presenter may like to have a moment's rest, but the audience is bound to wander off. Then try to win them over again.

Story and image works much better than story, image and text.

Are you not allowed to use text at all? In any case, not whole sentences. Exceptions are quotations or definitions that are important. As soon as you start using bullets, you know for sure that you are on the wrong track. Text on slides can be used when presenting a structure, but even then it should be keywords. The presenter should never say exactly the same as what is shown on the slide. He says more. The slide is supporting. You can check yourself: the powerpoint you have made for your presentation should be unusable without you. If you can use your powerpoint as a handout, then you have made powerpoint work against you instead of for you.

Michel is now panicking. He has a lot of information to convey and would like to put all that information on slides. At least that way he is sure that people will see and know everything. Wrong, Michel! People will remember much less that way. What he can do much better is to announce in his introduction that there will be a handout available after the lecture with all the information on it. Michel will have to make this handout separately. He draws it up in written language and it will contain more information than the presentation itself. That way, Michel is sure that everyone has all the information and he can use his presentation to get the main points of his message across. His audience will also be reassured with the announcement of the handout after the presentation and can fully focus on what Michel is going to say. Remember: Michel's main task is not just to convey information. Michel will try to involve the staff in the new policy, explaining the broad outlines and the how and why, and he will thus have a direct gauge of the feelings of the staff.

You insert a slide when you are about to speak about the subject it belongs to. When the subject is over and it is not yet time for the next slide, switch PowerPoint to black. (In the Dutch version, use the z-key; in the English version, use the b-key. The .-key works in both versions. To undo, use the key again). It is best to do this during a black slide, then the attention does not jump back to the previous slide when switching on. All slides should support what you are saying. You never have to look at the projected slides yourself, but you can occasionally check on the laptop whether the right slide is playing. A good illustration of the use of slides is the newsreel. When do you look at the image and when do you only look at the newsreader? How do they display charts, diagrams and summaries?

Using films or audio interviews can be very useful and enjoyable for the audience. Again, it must contribute to your message. If not, don't start. During a short film, there is a moment of relaxation and variation for the audience. Make sure you start the video from powerpoint and do not use any other medium. It takes too long and is too distracting.

For the slides themselves, the use of colour, font and type of pictures is important. Make sure the colours you use are clearly visible. Complementary colours work well, with the cool colour in the background and the warm colour in the foreground. Colour also gives off atmosphere. Whatever colours you choose for the foreground and background, keep it that way. A different layout every slide is too distracting. The same applies to the font. A sans serif font, not too small. Arial, Helvetica or Gill are good examples. The pictures and graphics you use should be of good quality. Sharp, beautiful and clearly visible. Pictures of people always work well. People like to look at people. Do not use clipart or poor quality pictures.

Using animation can be very useful. Bas could explain his latest application with an animated representation of the information flow of his tool. Animated bullets are often a nuisance, as are sound effects. Do not use animations that take time and do not contribute anything (such as making bullets fly away and fly in).

Don't overload the slides. A single word and a picture works better than 10 pictures, a graph and logos everywhere. Keep it simple and beautiful.

When presenting, it is useful to have a remote control to switch to the next slide.

=> Powerpoint is not compulsory!


sample slides

ERROR: A slide layout that is often seen. Everything is wrong. The font is not sans serif and too small, clipart has been used and there are all kinds of distracting elements in the slide that do not contribute to the message. (Date, orange bars, a 'title', the Learnit logo, the clipart, the time, the slide number)

GOOD: Although the factual information on the slide is about the same, this slide has a supporting effect. There are no distracting factors, the font is good. Images of people always work well.


Even just mentioning the word 'you' works better than the wrong slide with the whole sentence:


The effect of Colour:

Even if both slides contain the same word, the effect of the slide is completely different due to a different background colour and font. Choose 1 font for your presentation and 1 colour scheme. Try colour.


ERROR: This is how we most often see powerpoint slides. Packed with text and bullets. This does not work! The presenter may think that this type of slide will make the audience absorb everything, but nothing could be further from the truth. GOOD: One point (without bullet) per slide is displayed here. The image supports the slide. You get a 'feel' for the importance, effect, consequence of storytelling.

Also a good slide. You see Martin Luther King's passion dripping off, you feel what you should be doing as a presenter. It supports the factual information: show your own passion as a presenter.

Keep an eye on the quality of the photography and beware of pictures that are too arty, like the one in the slide above. The use of colour and the image of a person is good, but a less flashy photo would be better.

And remember: the most memorable presentations did not use PowerPoint! The most important thing is the presenter.

Images are supportive.

It is not always necessary to include text. Suppose you want to say something about presenting.

You immediately see what it is like to stand in front of a room and have to speak.

Exercises: Powerpoint

  1. Watch the news and see how they use visual aids. When do they use them? When do they use lists? How do they use repetition? How long do you look at a talking face? Watch the news several times. The more often you watch, the more things you will notice. Also watch a news report from another country or another station.
  2. Search the internet for colour schemes and free stock photography.
  3. Make slides to accompany your presentation. Make sure the slides depict and support your story. Use images of people, simple graphics, videos. Be critical whether it really contributes, otherwise make a black slide.