June 30, 2008

Why would you use words on the screen when they do just fine in your mouth?

David Jakes and Dean Shareski show us that it's not just what you say, but how you say it. It's 21 years since PowerPoint was invented, 21 years since we've had to relearn how we communicate, to get away from the bullet-point death into which many of us were induced throughout the nineties and right up to the current day.

1. Teach them biology
When we experience a presentation we experience it in two ways - through the auditory nerves (ears) and the optical nerves (eyes). The brain is geared up to seeing above all else: 30% of the cortex is devoted to visual processing, only 8% for touch and 3% for hearing. So, biology tells us that our presentations must be, above all, visual.

2. Teach them to make it visual
PowerPoint doesn't kill presentations. Bullet points do. We need to move our students away from text-based presentations. The text is in what we say.

"Why would you use words on the screen when they do just fine in your mouth?" Seth Godin.

It's not about killing all the words in a presentation, but if you remove most of them then the presenter has to internalise the content. Great for learners. But great for listeners, too. Our cognitive load will tend to move into overload if we have too much going on through the screen as we listen to the words from the presenter.

3. Teach them how to find images
Flickr is great for finding images, but Flickrstorm is another alternative, which makes it easier to search within the creative commons images contained on Flickr, add them to your tray of photos, and download all of them at once, providing you simultaneously with the original URL of each picture. iStockphoto is a pay-for site but gives an exceptional quality of image. The best part for presentations, is that images can be searched for with white space in particular areas. Tell the advanced search that you want to have images with whitespace in the top left corner, so that your text there can be legible, and it will return images that suit your means perfectly.

4 Tell them how to respect Creative Commons
Creative Commons is the licence that tells people how they can use your content in their own sites or project, legally. There are several types of licence which are important to understand. Not everyone does, so it needs taught, not caught.

5. Teach them design
Design is often seen as the thing that we get around to eventually, "if there's enough time to get to it". Design is key. It's the first thing we need to consider. It changes the way we develop our original idea so fundamentally, we're best to approach things from a design perspective from the outset.

The first thing we need to do is strip away the template that came with the presentation package. We also need to strip away anything that's minor, that we can simply add in passing. Then, can we reduce what's left to once sentence, with an image that speaks 1000 words telling us everything we need to know, along with the oral presentation that we're giving.

6. Teach them to sell
In libraries we see children copy and paste chunks of text, learning nothing about that particular topic. Children need to learn how to craft and sell a message. Communication is the transfer of emotion (another Godin-ism).

7. Colour and font choice matters
Fire trucks are becoming yellow - it's the most noticeable colour in our spectrum. Green signifies renewal for most cultures. Red signifies alertness or anger in most cultures. Americans do indeed seem to have a preference for the colour blue, deep blue signifying trust. Combining national preference with the most flashy colour leads Blockbusters and Goodyear to the logos they have.

"Comic sans is illegal in 34 States," says Jakes. Serif fonts help you move from one word to the next, great for when you're reading. But in presentations you don't want your audience to be reading - you want them to be listening to you. Therefore, in presentations we need to use Sans Serif fonts. With American audiences, avoid the use of Helvetica - it's used by the Inland Revenue Service.

8. Teach them to incorporate multimedia
Everything on the web these days, if it's worth watching, has the word <EMBED> next to it. But if YouTube or Google Video is blocked in your school district then students need to learn how to use Vixy or ZamZar to convert online video at home to a hard file they can import into their presentation.

9. Teach them some PowerPoint secrets
Pressing the button B makes the PowerPoint go blank. W makes the screen go white. Typing the number of a slide will take you to a slide, even if it's a hidden slide that we didn't see in the main presentation.

10. Teach them to share
Dan Roam's new book is the quickest read (it took me a Sunday afternoon) but one of the most valuable if you present.
Pic: Presentation Skills from RXAphotography.com


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Great post. Love the "fact" about Comic sans - why???

Smiles - I think it was just a joke......

Elementary teachers love that font -- but when you take DJ/DS's entire NECC presentation and you will realize words on PowerPoint just might not be necessary -- you realize a cute font probably is not necessary as well.

Again, I think it was just a joke. But if I am wrong....please post the link.


I am in process of reading Roam's book along with Garr Reynold's Presentation Zen for my Summer Reading. It's amazing how "business" books seem to offer much more to me as a teacher than much of the "education" literature that's out there.

It also has me re-thinking my approach to lessons for my fifth graders this coming year!

A stonkin' post Ewan!

I was thinking the other day about my Powerpoint presentations and how much they've improved in the last year or so - and the title of your post sums it all up.

And now I've got a Mac :oD so me and Keynote are becoming buddies!

Lisa xx
still like Comic Sans though ;o)

Teach them to use Mind-mapping tools!
Why be stuck in such a linear format such as Powerpoint when you can "go wherever you want to go" using a concept map? Will never do a presentation with ppt again...


Use whatever tool you like: keynote, a mindmap, powerpoint or a napkin. PPT was the "social object" around which we can discussed principles and elements of presentation and communication skills. People know what PPT is. They don't necessarily know what presentation skills are about.

PS. Not sure I used the social object term correctly but I hope you get the idea.

The Biology you use is a little simplified for me Euan - much of the visual cortical areas in the brain use other imput as well as vision for processing, so the 30% stuff is not entirely correct. Also, much of this processing involves making meaning of words that have been read. If these are presented in bullet point to reinforce speech then the processing is all the more powerful, the cognitive theory behind power point I think.
And for some people, too many pictures results in actual cognitive overload when the brain is overstimulated and shuts down, concentrating on a limited amount of information. This is the bottleneck processing theory and can explain why we appear to 'screen' information. Again, power point uses this when it's used effectively.
I would like to see more people not reading out their slides word for word though... nothing sends me to sleep faster.

Sharing...but not bullet-points.

Thanks, Jaye. I hasten to add that this is what I've heard from Jakes and Shareski today, not my own research, but know that they will be fascinated by your input. I think that some degree of poetic justice can be afforded given the topic matter and the point the were trying to make. It helped get across the point that we need to use more visuals - which is true - and not read out our PowerPoints - which can't happen soon enough, esp on some of the other sessions I've attended :-)

Here is a link to a presentation I saw that really caught my attention. While the subject matter isn't neccessarily related, the presentation technique is quite interesting.


"It helped get across the point that we need to use more visuals"

Yep! And a visualiser makes life so much more....



Stuck with PowerPoint until he wins the lottery or Mother leaves him the house by which time there'll be something else along to make grown teachers cry and scream as they try to get one!


Sorry - forgot the link to a very good slideshow I use to encourage my colleagues to cut down the waffle, clip the cartoons and stop adding naked ladies halfway through to wake the S4 boys at the back up!

Interesting comments - Ihave been working hard already doing just this for my KS3 ICT lessons with great success. Perhaps if you would like to see some examples email me. [email protected]

It takes far longer to do, but the results are fantastic and really inspires the kids with good practice being shown to them.

Another aspect to consider is where your presentation will occur and how else it will be viewed. We have professors who make decent ppt slides for classroom presentation, but the compressed video files (we record all our distance ed classes on computer so students can re-view them via D2L) are unreadable. And the student presentations almost never fail to be useless anywhere except the computer screen where they made the original presentation. We try to encourage students to arrange a time they can come in and look at how their slides/materials will look on the projector and how it will look in the video archives. (They rarely take us up on that.) I always suggest a good guideline is to view the slides in "notes" mode, walk across the room and see how well you can read it. If it's too small there, assume it is too small for students in the back of the room. If you have too much information on a page to make the font smaller, you have too much information on the page!

Thought you might find this one useful too:


I've had very positive reaction with it when lecturing to academic audiences

Great post.
I like PowerPoint. The freedom in creating presentations using this program is actually unlimited. By combining PowerPoint with other graphic software such us Photoshop it's possible to improve presentations appearance with professional looking design.

An excellent post, something I will share with teachers in and around Shropshire.

Nice of you to ask if you could use my photo.

Sorry - I was just going by the CC licence on your work:

Very much enjoyed your keynote at BLC08. I was reading through your blog and found a phrase that threw me for a second - "Inland Revenue Service." It took me a few seconds to realize that you probably meant the Internal Revenue Service - which IS a a bothersome part of our government, ;-).

Very much enjoyed your keynote at BLC08. I was reading through your blog and found a phrase that threw me for a second - "Inland Revenue Service." It took me a few seconds to realize that you probably meant the Internal Revenue Service - which IS a a bothersome part of our government, ;-).

Right now I am introducing students in my professional development workshop to the wonderful world of blogs starting with yours! Thanks Ewan!

Great suggestions Ewan! Your BLC08 visuals were a perfect example of how to share a powerful presentation without the bullets!

Very informative post. Thanks!

July 22, 2008

Today I am in a computer workshop, learning Podcast and Edu. Blogs. There is so much to explore. It opens the whole world in front of my eyes. It is great.

While we need to be saved from bullet point death in power point, if we all use mind mapping the effect will be similar.

This article was very interesting. It doesn't seem possible that 21 years has gone since the introduction of powerpoint. I agree that presentations will be a lot more involved with video and audio components. The future is certainly exciting.

> The brain is geared up to seeing above all else: 30% of the cortex is devoted to visual processing, only 8% for touch and 3% for hearing. So, biology tells us that our presentations must be, above all, visual.

No, this is a terrible inference.

There is no reason to believe that the percentage of the cortex devoted to something is related to the manner in which information is most efficiently processed.

One could argue, for example, that of you want the most efficient route to the memory, you go through a simple system, like smell, that doesn't require a whole lot of processing.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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