Bad Powerpoint Presentations?

An opinion by Boris Trnavskis, MSS student.

I have heard some CMSS students and the occasional professor disparage PowerPoint presentations. So what is worse than a bad PowerPoint presentation? In my humble opinion, it is a presenter who undermines his outstanding analysis, ideas, and insights by reading his paper or script, word-for-word, in a monotone using an allegro tempo. At least with a lousy PowerPoint presentation, I have something to look at while the presenter reads his script.

But all kidding aside, I see two important advantages of using PowerPoint or some equivalent visual medium when presenting ideas. By using PowerPoint slides I am engaging two of the audiences’ senses – hearing and seeing.  I recall reading somewhere that the more senses you can engage, the more likely the audience will absorb and retain what you have to communicate.

But more importantly, if I am clicking away my slides instead of burying my nose in the paper I am reading, I can read the visual feedback and cues my audience is sending me.  Am I connecting and communicating or are people checking their tweets, text messages, emails, surfing the net, etc.? Am I using jargon, acronyms, or terminology they are unfamiliar with? Do I need to re-phrase or re-state a point I just made because it is not clear? Am I droning on too long on a particular point?  Are they all tired after a big lunch and about to fall asleep unless I raise my voice or energize them? etc. etc.  I also like to give the audience a copy of my slides in advance so they can jot down questions next to the relevant slide, while the question is still fresh in their minds, or they can make their own notes and comments in the margins.

If at all possible, try to engage a third or fourth sense.  Here is a crazy example: I brought in some mountaineering gear and placed one piece of equipment in front of each student, while delivering a PowerPoint presentation on mountain warfare in Dr. Huebert’s Strategic Studies class.  Students were encouraged to look at and touch the specialized climbing gear.  It helped me to emphasize the point that conventional infantry soldiers are not trained to use even the most basic mountaineering gear, which is used routinely by mountain infantry like the Gebirgsjäger.  If the students got bored and were a bit twisted, they could smell my old, beat-up, leather climbing boots with attached crampons.

Just my opinion.



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