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Effective Use of PowerPoint


Helping Students Use Power Point Effectively in Speeches


When used well, PowerPoint (or other projected images) can supplement a speech in powerful visual ways allowing photographs, charts, graphs, maps, art, models, sound, and video to enhance the spoken word.


Unfortunately, PowerPoint is often not used well, decreasing listening energy and retention.  PowerPoint is not “the presentation.”  Your words, your nonverbal communication, and your interaction with the audience are “the speech” - any projected images should be used to supplement or to enhance the speech.  For every speech, you should be able to present it even if the technology fails and you have no access to your prepared PowerPoint slides!


Common problems that reduce listeners’ attention, critical thinking, and memory:


    *      Too much text


    *      Too many slides (attempt to have a slide for every point or thought)


    *      Bullet points for all concepts, whether the concepts fit such a format or not


    *      Redundancy that bores the audience (slides, spoken words, and handouts that repeat the same information in exactly the same way)


    *      Slides as speakers’ “crutches” - speakers reading the slides or using the slides as notes, so eye contact and connection with the listeners is minimal


    *      Visual overkill - distracting visual elements (poor color choices, overly busy graphics, transitions between slides that call attention to themselves, confusing graphs, cutesy graphics that are not in alignment with the tone appropriate for the subject matter of the speech, etc.)


    *      Visual and verbal disconnect - Leaving slides up for one concept when the speech itself is no longer focused on that material


    *      Technology glitches – audience waiting because sound isn’t up, file won’t load, format isn’t consistent, etc.


To maximize listening and learning:


Decide what you want to say when you have a speech assignment.  Don’t just begin by opening the PowerPoint software.  Remember that some types of presentations do not benefit from visuals.  Determine the goal of your speech first; then think about the structure and content needed to reach that goal for your specific audience.  Later, consider what visuals could enhance the accomplishment of that goal.


Do not read text from your slides to your listeners.  First, remember that they are able to read.  Second, avoid text on your slides as much as possible; if a title or short phrase is necessary for your graphic, use it (in at least 16 point font).  Otherwise, choose slides that communicate something significant visually.  Do not put up paragraphs of text and then read them to the listeners!  This advice affects 1) your preparation of the slides and 2) your preparation of your speakers’ notes.


Do not provide a handout of your slides to your listeners prior to your presentation.  If the concepts are complex and listeners need to take notes to retain the information, then prepare a note-taking guide to distribute prior to the speech.  If a model, chart, or graph that you will project in a slide is something they will need later and it is too complex for them to draw in their own notes, distribute it following the presentation.  (Be sure to tell them they will receive a copy when the slide goes up, so they do not begin to try to draw it.)


Be selective about your use of visuals; using only a few excellent images rather than a slide for every point will be much more effective.  Ask yourself, does this visual image enhance what I’m saying?  If it adds nothing, repeats, or distracts, then don’t use it.


Display a slide only when discussing it.  Have a blank slide up when you are not directly referencing a slide (unless it is a mood setter, such as a photo that serves as background).  Having a slide up waiting for you to get to that point is distracting to your audience (as is a light shining on your face from the projector).  Use slides sparingly.


Check lighting, sound, and all technology prior to your speech.  We need to be able to see you.  You are still your own best visual aid.  Oral rehearsal is one preparation technique that has been demonstrated to make a difference in the audience’s reaction to a speech.  Be sure your oral rehearsal includes rehearsal with the PowerPoint.  Whenever possible, rehearse in the space in which you will present, with the technology available in that space. If you can’t figure out how to use a technology, then don’t use it during a public presentation.  Your focus can easily be fixated on the technology rather than communicating well with your listeners.


Study and apply principles of color when you are creating slides (see link and resources below for models).  You are creating visuals so if you need assistance in this area, get it.  Likewise, when you must use text, choose font styles and sizes carefully and then use them consistently (see link below).


Always be prepared to give your speech without the slides.  Technology often fails.


Credit sources of visual material.  In addition to providing oral citation of all sources of material used in your speeches (who, when, where), observe copyright laws for downloaded materials.  Fair use provision of copyright law allows educators and students to use material in class without obtaining permission as follows:


    *      Up to three minutes or 10%, whichever is less, of a copyrighted video, film, or other motion media.


    *      Up to 10 % but no more than 30 seconds of music and lyrics


    *      An entire photograph, but no more than 10% of a collection of works


    *      Credit sources (printed source at the bottom of the slide) and display the copyright symbol when using copyright materials in a PowerPoint presentation.


Sample presentations with PowerPoint




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David Brown
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