Mistakes to Avoid When Using Powerpoint

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One of the fundamental truths in designing a training program is that training is not about the instructor and his or her content, but rather, it is about the participants and their learning needs.  This truth applies to both the design of a training program, and its delivery, and is especially important when using PowerPoint as a visual aid in your live presentation or virtual training

Let me start by making a very bold statement.  Here it is: the vast, overwhelming majority of people do not know how to use PowerPoint effectively.  Does this statement surprise you?  Alarm you?  Would it stun you even more if I pointed out that Microsoft’s PowerPoint software is over 23 years old?  So why have we been using a software application like PowerPoint for so long and still haven’t figured out how to use it effectively? 

The main reason for this discrepancy is that we do not use PowerPoint the way the human mind naturally takes in and processes information.  For example, early PowerPoint pioneers taught us to limit the amount of text we put on each slide and to have no more than around five bullets per slide.  But this advice misses the point because visual aids don’t work best when they are used to convey information through text or words.  Instead, they work best when they engage participants on an emotional level.  Now why is this important for learning?  Because everything we learn passes first through our senses.  This means that our emotions are the gateway to whatever it is we end up learning.     

None of us pays attention to what’s boring; we really only notice what’s sensational.  Look at the magazines and the headlines, photos and stories on display at the checkout stands at your neighborhood grocery store.  It takes appealing to your senses – perhaps even shocking them – to get your attention.  The same applies to learning.  Placing text on a PowerPoint slide won’t capture someone’s attention; in fact, it has become ‘white noise’ with its overuse.  It no longer has any emotional appeal – if it ever did in the first place.

Words alone only overload a person with too much information.  Our minds do not work well with words and text alone.  By themselves, words and text are inert.  By taking this truth to heart and reorienting the way you present information in your training programs, you will see a marked difference in the experience of your participants. 

So what do you need to do to make your PowerPoint presentation more compelling?  It starts with this: images result in a more effective learning experience.  Therefore your PowerPoint presentation should be heavy on images and light on words and text – not the other way around.  It also means that bringing a concept to life through imagery is a far more powerful experience for participants than telling them about that concept. 

So this then begs an important question.  If images are the way to go, why do we continue to place so much emphasis on words and text when using PowerPoint?   One of the main reasons is that we tend to use PowerPoint as a way to help structure our thoughts and to help us remember what it is we want to say during the training program.  The headings and bullet points become a type of outline – it becomes the trainer’s framework for the program.  Now this may help the facilitator stay on track with the training program and remember what to say, but it is not what works best for the participants and their learning.  Using PowerPoint as a way to organize thoughts doesn’t constitute training.  In fact, a slide full of text and bullet points does nothing to help participants integrate the information being presented.

Visual aids such as PowerPoint are most effective when you want to bring your content to life by telling a story with images.  Text and words are dull and inexpressive.  So take the majority of the text off your PowerPoint slides and replace it with a variety of carefully chosen visuals that are dramatic, gripping, and full of life.

You have a phenomenal opportunity to ‘Wow!’ your participants while training them.  By effectively using PowerPoint, you will enhance the participant’s experience and deepen their learning by simply adding imagery.


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