Teaching PowerPoint is not just about showing kids how to add a new slide and change the font size (although it is that too). We should be teaching some stylistic points so that our students don’t go out into the world making embarrasing, boring PowerPoints which they will be teased for and bullied in the workplace.
PowerPoints should be clear and easy to read, help the audience follow your talk and bring them back if they drift off for a bit. Your PowerPoint should also add to your talk but not dominate it. Everything about it from the amount of text to the design and animations should be minimal.
There are a great deal of resources available online about creating good and bad PowerPoints. These are of varying quality and some have conflicting messages (do use bullet points, do not use bullet points…). I have distilled some of these down into this post which you can share with your students.
Use a consistent style throughout the presentation. This goes for background, font, colours, etc.
In a dark room, a light text on a dark background is better than a dark text on a light background. Both are better than dark on dark or light on light. Obviously. Yellow on dark blue works well.
Backgrounds should be of one colour. Having a graded effect can look good but also keep it to one colour (blue to darker blue for example).
Font, font size, colour
Sans serif fonts such as Arial, Calibri and Helvetica are easier to read than serif fonts such as Times New Roman and Cambria.
Use a font size that your audience can easily read. To check, stand two metres away from your computer and run through your presentation.
Overusing capital letters makes your PowerPoint hard to read. Similarly, only use bold or italics to emphasise a word – if everything is emphasised then nothing is.
Avoid fancy font styles and colours. Don’t write in red as it is straining on the eye and the colourblind portion on the audience won’t be able to see it well.
Less text is better. Try to keep to less than 6 bullet points per slide and less than 10 words per bullet.
Address one concept per slide as you would paragraphs in an essay.
Transitions and animation
Transitions look nice. Go for it.
Regarding animations, Chad Orzel of the Uncertain Principles blog has this to say:
“There’s some setting in PowerPoint that assigns a random animation effect to each new item that appears, and students almost invariably go for this. Whenever I see it, I want to beat them senseless with an eraser.”
You can get a lot of mileage out of simple animation, revealing important information a little at a time, but the carnival of animation effects is incredibly distracting. Pick one effect, and stick with it. I recommend “Appear,” but I don’t object to some of the fade-in effects. The one where a text item drops from the top of the screen and bounces three or four times before settling into place should never, ever be used…”
Presumably you will be talking during your presentation so your presentation should keep quiet.
Videos may work on your computer and then not work on the computer that you are using to show the presentation, so don’t use them or check that they work beforehand. This applies to music too. Linking to YouTube will work as long as you are connected to the internet (but preload your video just to be sure).
Images can make your presentation look a bit more lively but if you have too many they become distracting. Try to keep it to one image per slide, don’t use an image as your background and don’t write over images.
Introduction and conclusion
You should have a clear topical theme throughout your PowerPoint which should be stated in your opening slides and reitterated in your concluding ones. Once you have done that you can put in an ‘Any Questions?’ slide if that’s appropriate.
I used these two resources when writing this – neither of which are any good to share with your students:
If you have any to contribute, please add them to the comments!