Wednesday, March 20, 2013

10 Do’s and don’ts to using PowerPoint to deliver presentations that don’t suck

Picture a half-full classroom with nearly-comatose students descending into the slow death that takes place while listening to a lecture that is as interesting as the buzzing of a mosquito that one cannot find in order to squash. It’s no secret that some teachers, even doctorates who work as college professors, suck when it comes to lecturing. Don’t let that be you!

We (especially students!) all know that not all lectures are created equal. Student AmberDawn Miley pointed this out in a discussion on Facebook when she said, “Just a thought. If teachers delivered like TED people. A lot more students would be tuned in.” (2012)

So what can educators do to make their lectures more engaging?

Below are two Ignite Presentations from college professors. For the purposes of this post, these presentations make perfect lectures to watch and analyze because they are from trained, experienced educators; they are short; and, they are meant to spark discussion, conversation, and ideas. Exactly the result teachers want for their students.

The lecture in the “Don’t” side evoked the following responses from students who were asked how they would feel if their teacher gave such a lecture

  • I would feel I should just be able to read that paper to myself somewhere more comfortable.
  • I would feel bored to death.
  • I would feel wonder as to why I bothered coming to class.
  • I would feel like I was suffering.
  • I would feel like my time would be better spent reading a book on my e-reader.

These are certainly not the reactions we want!

So, how can lecturing teachers and professors help students stay tuned in? Watch each to find examples of what you should and should not do when delivering a lecture.

Lecture Do’s and Don’ts

1Watch sampleWatch lectures done by speakers from whom you want to learn.  Here is a lecture that contains many of the “do’s” listed here. 

Margie Anne Bonnett 
Marketing professor
Towson University
Watch lectures done by speakers who are not well received. Don’t do what they do.  Here is a lecture* that contains many of the “dont’s” listed here.
Shaun Johnson* (see footnote)
Pre-service teacher instructor
Towson University
2Use powerful imagesUse visuals that evoke an emotional response. Students complain about dry presentations. Poor imagery is a big reason why. Ensure images are relevant to the slide’s content; otherwise, they only distract and confuse.Words should not dominate your slides. This is boring and causes listeners to tune out.  Your voice should contain your words. Your slides should not.
3Convey emotion in your voicePassion ignites and an inspires an audience. Tell a story. Show you care.  Let your passion inspire and become contagious. Don’t read in a monotone voice. In fact don’t read at all.  Have talking points and know what you are saying.  Your lecture should sound as though you are talking to someone not doing choral reading.
4Use humor, carefully and selectivelyEngaging lectures often contain a cartoon or two, and an occasional joke breaks down barriers and prevents clock-watching. Effective humor for a lecture steers clear of controversial topics and has at least some relevance to the topic. Humor can also be used to help make key points sink in.Don’t be dry. Be human. Laugh a little to connect with your audience. When you insert humor you can connect with audiences in ways that convey that you are speaking to them not at them.
5Remember your audienceInstead of giving a speech, engage the audience in a conversation. Make sure you make eye contact and connect with them. Ask them to participate by providing thoughtful questions for them to consider or respond to. For this to work, you must ask questions that require people to think, but not so hard as to make them clam up. Watch their reactions. Don’t forget you are speaking to an audience. Don’t forget to look at them. See how they are responding. This is about them, not you. Watch to ensure they are connecting and adjust if they are not.
6PrepareYou can always tell when a presenter has practiced: slide transitions are impeccably timed, explanations are crystal clear, and questions are fielded smoothly, never disrupting the flow of the lecture. Polished execution captures and sustains interest, and cannot be accomplished by “winging it.”
Don’t read off a piece of paper. Your audience will zone out and stop listening to what you’re saying, which means they won’t hear any extra information you include. Instead practice your presentation and connect with your audience.  Rather than typing out your entire presentation on a piece of paper, practice and let images, main ideas, and keywords remind you of what you are saying. Engage your audience by sharing the details out loud.
7Watch yourself on video
Watching yourself in action is a great way to see your strengths and weaknesses. Flaws really are more glaring to ourselves than to others. It may be painful, but even a few minutes reviewing your performance on video could save your students from having to suffer through a lecture.Don’t assume how your audience will perceive you. Be the audience by watching yourself then adjust accordingly. When you do keep the tips shared here in mind.  
Give tangible takeaways
After listening to your lecture, your audience should be left with some ideas that they can take away and use for their own personal success goals, learning, or to engage in concrete action.Don’t just lecture at people without providing explicit information to them about what they can do or take away from your lecture. Your job is not just to impart information, but to directly inspire and let people know how what you have shared will lead to their success.
9Be a story-teller, not a presenterEven if you don’t really think your topic is ‘story-like’, find the story in it. Lectures that work best are funny, revealing, have a start and end, and simple, pretty design.Don’t just deliver facts. Connect with your audience. Tell a story. Seem like you are a human, not a robot.

For example if you’re sharing a strategy, show it in action so your audience can see or imagine how this has had an impact.  
10Memorize your talk
This is definitely one of the most challenging and fun parts of lecturing to students. If you forget what you were going to say, freestyle into something more interesting. Know your topic and practice, but leave some room for that in-the-moment energy.No one wants a paper-trained professor. Lose the paper, get to know your material, and speak from the heart. Remember every time you present you have the chance to excite and inspire. That doesn’t happen when you are latching onto to a piece of paper. Don’t hide behind the paper. Know your talk and speak to your audience.

As you think of these do’s and don’t think about what lecture you can provide that will motivate your students to pursue higher learning and achieve their goals for success. What can you deliver that will pique their interest in digging deeper into the work that is most meaningful to them? What can you say that can ignite passion and spark the direction a young person wants to go in life? These are things to keep in mind as you consider what the role of your lecture will be and how to make it special enough to engage and inspire students.  

"Shaun Johnson has already learned something -- the college professor removed his what-not-to-do lecture from YouTube after this post was published."


  1. I enjoyed reading this post Lisa. This reminds me of when I was a first year uni student. I did a few presentations for assignments and I use to read off the slides. My slides would be my entire speech! Thankfully I am much better at Powerpoints and try to make them entertaining.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. In my teaching experience, I find that when using the Smartboard or power point presentations, there is a disconnect between the students and teacher. What I found most interesting is that it's not only the slides that contribute to the presentation, but more so how the information is facilitated to the students. If it is not delivered well, we can't expect our students to connect well to the information. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Excellent post. I tire of hearing educators automatically denigrate the PowerPoint presentation - as you point out, this technology can be used very effectively. What I've found over the years is that creating an effective powerpoint presentation can be very time consuming - particularly finding pictures and cartoons that appropriately (and interestingly) capture the points I'm trying to communicate. I've made a habit of being on the lookout for useful pictures even when I'm NOT planning a lecture, and organizing them by the topic they help illustrate (essay writing, social inequality in Canada, etc.) This saves a lot of time when I'm actually preparing a lecture, and also helps open my mind to different ways I could potentially introduce or illustrate a concept.