5 ways to avoid death by PowerPoint CPD presentation

Teachers are supposed to be good at presenting – but when it comes to CPD, too often the most basic of rules are ignored

Bridget Clay & David Weston

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Do you know what’s great at the end of a long school day? It’s this, of course: a colleague reading out their irrelevant slides in a robotic monotone. Ideally, the slides will be in a font too small for me to read. For extra fun, each paragraph should fly in with a zany animation that shows us how much they care about our engagement.

Or not.

Considering that a core teaching skill is presenting information, it’s amazing how many horrific CPD presentations there are. But it doesn’t need to be this way. Here are five ways to purge those PowerPoint pains.

1. Don’t read your slides

Your brain processes audio and visuals in parallel – this is called the dual channel system. This is great when listening to a great explanation while looking at a relevant image: the two complement each other. But when a narrator reads out printed text that’s a real problem. Your eyes are on one piece of text and your ears are hearing a different section, your brain is engaged in a confusing battle – you use most of your brain trying to keep the two in synch, or you disengage.

So here’s a simple guideline about when to read out blocks of text: never.

2. Ditch the animations

Animations generally slow down your presentation, they’re repetitive and they grate. Use “Appear” and “Disappear” to help people focus on the key idea at hand, but ditch 95% of the rest. If your presentation is dull, make the content more interesting. Animations won’t solve your problem.

3. Less is more

As a rule, font size 26 should be your minimum. Sentences should be short. You should have a maximum of three brief ideas on each slide – ideally fewer. Replace chunks of text with a relevant – not an annoying clip art or stock photo – image. The presenter can enthusiastically describe it and make use of the dual channel system.

4. Declutter

Remove backgrounds, logos, dividing lines, decorations. Work out what the audience should focus on and remove the rest. Don’t overdo emphasis – use underlines, bold and italic extremely sparingly. We’ve all seen slides where the speaker has tried to emphasise nearly every other word. It becomes a confusing mess.

5. Simplify diagrams and label carefully

Simple diagrams or cartoons can be powerful. Keep text to an absolute minimum and make sure that labels are very close to the object they describe. Long lines to labels, chunky boxes, numbers and tables of descriptions – avoid these like the plague as they make the diagram much harder to understand.

Use these five rules and your slides will be all the better for it. Focus your creative energy on simple and engaging narratives and explanations instead. Invest in some voice training to make your words crackle with magic. Tune up your content so that it feels genuinely relevant for participants in a way that will help them to help their students.

Finally, remember that a presentation by itself rarely has any impact. Like the best lessons, participants need to have lots of opportunity to try the ideas out and get expert and peer feedback. But if you are going to use PowerPoint in the process…at least use it well.

Bridget Clay is head of programme (leading together) at Teach First. She tweets @bridget89ec

David Weston is the CEO of the Teacher Development Trust. He tweets @informed_edu

Their forthcoming book, Unleashing Great Teaching, will be published in May

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Bridget Clay & David Weston

Bridget Clay (@bridget89ec) and David Weston (@informed_edu) are, respectively, the director and CEO of the Teacher Development Trust. Find out more at http://TDTrust.org/ and look out for their forthcoming book, Unleashing Great Teaching.

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