We at Straightaway know that a blended learning approach that combines the best of instructor led sessions with online, digital learning is hands down the “best” way to learn. This is the fifth in our seven-part Facilitation Tips series. In this blog, we examine some myths and misconceptions around our use of media – the dreaded Powerpoint and other media assets.
If you are teaching, you are responsible for learning experiences that change behavior. How we use or abuse media is a huge part of the teaching story.
To that end, here are a few best practice ideas from experience and a TEDBlog for using media in your teaching:
- Think about your slides last. Building your slides should be the tail end of developing your teaching. Think about your main message, structure its supporting points, practice it and time it—and then start thinking about your slides. So many times, we do just the opposite and we end up with way too many slides. Slide decks should not act as your presenter notes.
- Create a consistent look and feel. In a good slide deck, each slide feels like part of the same story. That means using the same or related typography, colors and imagery across all your slides.
- Think about topic transitions. When you are moving on to a new segment or topic, let your audience know you have finished this and are starting that. It helps them switch gears in their mind and you don’t lose any audience members. A verbal gear change is fine, you don’t have to do it in slide format, but let them know where you’ve been and where you are headed.
- With text, less is almost always more. One major thing to avoid—slides with a lot of text, especially if it’s a repeat of what you’re saying out loud. It’s like if you give a paper handout in a meeting—everyone’s head goes down and they read, rather than staying heads-up and listening. If there are a lot of words on your slide, you’re asking your audience to split their attention between what they’re reading and what they’re hearing. That’s really hard for a brain to do, and it compromises the effectiveness of both your slide text and your spoken words. If you can’t avoid having text-heavy slides, try to progressively reveal text (like unveiling bullet points one by one) as you need it. This way you control what your audience sees.
- Use photos that enhance meaning. Look for photos that (1) speak strongly to the concept you’re talking about and (2) aren’t complex by composition. Your photo could be a metaphor or something more literal, but it should be clear why the audience is looking at it. For example, when teaching change, a picture of a foggy road where you can’t tell what’s around the bend is far more powerful than word art that says “CHANGE”. Get the idea? Photos can grab our hearts and activate emotion. Use that to your advantage.
- Go easy on the effects and transitions. Keynote and Powerpoint come with a lot of effects and transitions. Most of these don’t do much to enhance the audience experience. At worst, they subtly suggest that the content of your slides is so uninteresting that a page flip or droplet transition will snap the audience out of their lethargy. If you must use them, use the most subtle ones, and keep it consistent.
- For video, don’t use auto-play. It’s super easy to insert video in Keynote and Powerpoint—you just drag your file onto the slide. And when you advance the deck to the slide with the video that auto-plays, sometimes it can take a moment for the machine to actually start playing it. So often presenters click again in an attempt to start the video during this delay, causing the deck to go to the next slide. Instead, set the video to click to play. That way you have more predictable control over the video start time, and even select a poster frame to show before starting.
- Use charts and graphs that tell a story. Develop graph data that illustrates a point and is easy to infer. A lot of data for the sake of data (or worse, has to be explained) is not good. Rather than a before and after data point, provide a chart that shows increase, decrease or whatever your teaching point.
- Mind Your Time. After about 10 – 15 minutes, you should be introducing an activity — a bit of conversation or something to get people out of looking at slides and listening to you. People tend to have limited attention spans for listening to someone talk. Like we mentioned at the beginning, Death by Powerpoint is a THING!.
- Know Your Tech. If you are teaching in an unfamiliar area, make sure you show up early enough to test your tech. Make sure you have the right cables, audio capabilities and physical equipment to deliver your teaching. Know how to send your computer signal to the projector and in what manner (do you want to see the deck on your computer or do you want to just use the projection screen, etc.). Know who to call if you get in a jam.
- Print Your Notes. If you need notes, it’s not a character flaw, just make sure you print them ahead of time, especially if they are extensive. If you rely on the display that shows notes, be aware it will only show a partial set.
Here are a couple of resources for you to peruse at your convenience on how to establish a central message and structure your talk, and more. The first is a book entitled Resonate, by Nancy Duarte. It’s not so much about slides, but about public speaking in general – which is the foundation for any presentation, regardless of how great your slides are. Another is Benjamin Zander’s charming TED Talk about classical music, a talk that captivated the audience from start to finish. It is a good example of how to structure a talk. Also by Duarte, Slide:ology. This book is more focused on presentation visuals and slides, the use of color and other slide related direction.
Media has the power to enhance or frankly, to tank our teaching. It should always be a supplement, not the only means to an end. The most powerful facilitators use it as seasoning to a well-planned and executed meal of learning.