Becoming a better presenter

As I continue to do workshops and presentations, I’m trying to become better, of course. I bought a book a few months ago, Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson, which provides concrete and clear guidance on how to build and give excellent presentations using PowerPoint and finally started reading it before my trip to Phoenix.

His main point is that people should get away from using so much text on individual slides and stop reading the bullets as they are giving a presentation. I couldn’t agree more, of course, since my dissertation was a study using Richard E. Mayer’s multimedia learning principles as the framework. I know some people think that reading the text and showing it MUST be better, since the people are getting it reinforced in two ways (visual & auditory), but many researchers have shown that this is not true. In fact, this type of presentation actually hinders learning, since it overloads the auditory channel with the speaker’s narrative, plus having to read and process the text, which also uses this channel. Mayer describes it very well:

Bullets don’t kill learning, but improper use of bullets kills learning. In order to create effective PowerPoint presentations, it is important to understand how people learn. In particular, cognitive scientists have discovered three important features of the human information processing system that are particularly relevant for PowerPoint users: dual-channels, that is, people have separate information processing channels for visual material and verbal material; limited capacity, that is, people can pay attention to only a few pieces of information in each channel at a time; and active processing, that is, people understand the presented material when they pay attention to the relevant material, organize it into a coherent mental structure, and integrate it with their prior knowledge. The implications are that: 1) PowerPoint presentations should use both visual and verbal forms of presentation, 2) filling the slides with information will easily overload people’s cognitive systems, and 3) the presentations should help learners to select, organize, and integrate presented information. (

Also, it’s important to think about what you want to accomplish with your PowerPoint presentation. Mayer argues that people should aim to create “cognitive guidance” for your audience “in which the goal is to guide the audience in their processing of the presented information” (

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a lot of PowerPoint presentations where all I experience is the presenter presenting information, not really guiding me to understand key concepts or other ideas. This is the challenge, yet power of PowerPoint. I am really trying to beef up my presentations and to create them in ways that are interesting to the audience, meaningful, and really informs and teaches them. Yes, like creating an excellent lesson plan, it’s a lot of work, but worthwhile in the long run.

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