The prevalence of computers and projectors in most schools, offices, and other presentation facilities has made using computer-generated visual aids more convenient. PowerPoint is the most commonly used presentation software and has functionality ranging from the most simple text-based slide to complicated transitions, timing features, video/sound imbedding, and even functionality with audience response systems like Turning Point that allow data to be collected live from audience members and incorporated quickly into the slideshow. Despite the fact that most college students have viewed and created numerous PowerPoint presentations, I have still seen many poorly executed slideshows that detracted from the speaker’s message. PowerPoint should be viewed as a speech amplifier. Like an amplifier for a guitar, it doesn’t do much without a musician there to play the instrument. The speaker is the musician, the speech is the instrument, and PowerPoint is the amplifier. Just as the amplifier doesn’t dictate what the guitar player does, neither should PowerPoint take over the speaker.
I like to distinguish between using PowerPoint as a presentation aid and as a visual aid. PowerPoint, with all its bells and whistles, is designed as a presentation aid. Presentations are generally longer than speeches, at least fifteen minutes long, and are content heavy. College lectures and many professional conference presentations fall into this category. In these cases, PowerPoint generally runs along with the speaker throughout the presentation, reviewing key points and presenting visual aids such as pictures and graphs. The constant running of the slideshow also facilitates audience note taking, which is also common during presentations.
Speeches, on the other hand, are usually fifteen minutes or less, have repetition and redundancy built in (as they are adapted to a listening audience), and carry less expectation that the audience will take detailed notes. In this case, I believe PowerPoint should be used more as a visual aid, meaning that it should be simpler and amplify particular components of the speech rather than run along with the speaker throughout the speech.
Tips for Using PowerPoint as a Visual Aid
- Do not have more than two slides per main point.
- Use a consistent theme with limited variation in font style and font size.
- Incorporate text and relevant graphics into each slide.
- Limit content to no more than six lines of text or six bullet points per slide.
- Do not use complete sentences; be concise.
- Avoid unnecessary animation or distracting slide transitions.
- Only have a slide displayed when it is relevant to what you’re discussing. Insert completely black slides to display when you are not explicitly referencing content in the speech so the audience doesn’t get distracted.
“Getting Plugged In”
Alternatives to PowerPoint
Although PowerPoint is the most frequently used presentation software, there are alternatives that can also be engaging and effective if the speaker is willing to invest the time in learning something new. Keynote is Apple’s alternative to Microsoft’s PowerPoint and offers some themes and style choices that can set your presentation apart from the familiar look of PowerPoint. Keep in mind that you will need to make sure you have access to Mac-compatible presentation tools, since Keynote won’t run or open on most PCs. Prezi is a new web-based presentation tool that uses Flash animation, zooming, and motion to make a very different-looking computer-generated visual aid. If you have the time to play with Prezi and create a visual aid for your presentation, you will stand out. You can see Prezi in action in Note 9.31 "Video Clip 9.1". You can also see sample presentations on Prezi’s website: http://prezi.com/explore.
- What are some positives and negatives of using PowerPoint as a visual aid?
- What are some other alternatives to using PowerPoint as a visual aid? Why?
Video Clip 9.1
James Geary, Metaphorically Speaking
In this video, James Geary presents on metaphor using Prezi as his visual aid.
- Library resources like databases and reference librarians are more suitable for college-level research than general search engines.
- Research sources include periodicals, newspapers and books, reference tools, interviews, and websites. The credibility of each type of supporting material should be evaluated.
- Speakers should include a variety of supporting material from their research sources in their speeches. The types of supporting material include examples, explanations, statistics, analogies, testimony, and visual aids.
- Visual aids help a speaker reinforce their content visually and have many potential benefits. Visual aids can also detract from a speech if not used properly. Visual aids include objects; chalkboards, whiteboards, and flip charts; posters and handouts; pictures; diagrams; charts; graphs; video; and presentation software.
- Getting integrated: Identify some ways that research skills are helpful in each of the following contexts: academic, professional, personal, and civic.
- Go to the library webpage for your school. What are some resources that will be helpful for your research? Identify at least two library databases and at least one reference librarian. If you need help with research, what resources are available?
- What are some websites that you think are credible for doing college-level research? Why? What are some website that are not credible? Why?