You Suck at PowerPoint (and how to get better)


Welcome to the second in a weekly series of top-IT-tips, topped with copious sarcasm, in an effort to get everyone using technology to enhance teaching and learning.
This week, my second biggest concern.

You Suck at PowerPoint (and how to get better)

Yes. Yes you do.
Me too.
This isn’t because of your technical skills, in the main. You may be able to animate one funky transition and apply custom animation galore, but let’s be honest, you’re not doing a presentation; you’re using the slides to store the content of your lesson.
PowerPoint presentations are meant as an extra visual stimulus or a place to hold small amounts of key text – if you’ve got more than 20 words on a slide then you’re doing it wrong.
Worse still, our students start to emulate our PowerPoint style and end up giving the most god-awful presentations you’ve ever seen. So, for the sake of the children, please stop getting PowerPoint wrong.


Filling a PowerPoint full to the brim with text. You’ve seen the ones, size 6 font, black on white, Times New Roman; they should be banned. The sort of presentation where you feel the need to apologise for the amount of text or the fact that people might not be able to see it or read it all.
If you’re apologising then don’t do it in the first place.
Maybe you’re using PowerPoint to store the entire curriculum text that you need to deliver. You know, just in case you miss something. Perhaps you’ve rushed this lesson and copied the textbook into the PowerPoint file? I really don’t know what to say here. In many ways having nothing is better than jamming all that on the screen.
Research suggests that people are less likely to pay attention or absorb information when there is an over abundance of text on the screen and a speaker or activity is ongoing. They are subconsciously attempting to read and process the text rather than listen to you.
As teachers we need people to listen to us. Otherwise you’d be better off giving your students the textbook in the first place.


It’s Friday afternoon, you’ve got year 9. They’re going to be bouncing off the walls and you try and teach then with this:

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 10.43.48

So what? I was in a rush, needed to cover everything about keyboards and copied and pasted in the content from the mark scheme. Not ideal. I could break it up over multiple slides maybe, and make it look a bit sexier? That would work… right?!


  • There’s too much text, you will end up reading it off the board, modelling poor presentation skills and forcing the students to ignore your speaking as they rush to write down every, single word
  • It’s also really, awfully boring, there’s no stimulus here, there’s nothing to lead the learning around. You will be adding a minimal amount to this content by doing it in this way
  • Sticking a picture or animated gif on the side of this will just distract the student even further from your learning activity, and even distract from the text you thought was essential to the lesson.
  • No one can see the text, it’s far too small. Any student would struggle to see this and the frustration may lead to disruption, or the pace of your lesson simply dropping off
  • The important bits are lost on the students because of cognitive overload. There’s just too much there to take in in one go.


Simple. Chuck the text away. Why not go super minimalist? Just a picture to stimulate the discussion? I can knock this up in a rush if I need to, the lesson can be more student led and it is a real, good quality presentation that models to a student how to present when using PowerPoint in a way that will let them get a job!

Screen Shot 2013-11-28 at 10.45.34


1. Pictures help the retention of information, students use a different part of their brain to process that than they do the talking or discussion, therefore data is written to more areas and you have a simple stimulus to remind them of the discussion
2. The less text you put on the board the more you can make the students the focus of the lesson, an interactive session with debate, discussion or the like makes memories stronger as it increases the amount of associated memories and actions, increasing the likelihood that students will remember things.
3. Make the stimulus weird and wonderful, students will remember a wacky stimulus better than a boring picture, so if you’re teaching about fascism then why not have a silly gif of ‘the great dictator’ looping in the background? The absurd creates stronger memory associations and therefore helps students remember!
4. Students wont give up on you if your slides are simpler, because you have more to give them than they can access from the slides. Otherwise they do have a valid point when they say, “Can’t I just have the slides, Sir?”.
5. Please don’t think that just adding custom animation to make every word slowly drop in or appear will sort this out. What is wrong here is not our technical skills, but our attitudes to what we consider a presentation.
6. If you’ve got a lot of text to distribute then make it into a word file and print it out, using it as supplementary information. If it’s important enough that every student has to have it then why are you letting them transcribe it poorly?
7. Remember this applies whenever you’re using PowerPoint! Even if you’re showing a bunch of adults your slides as you talk then the same rules apply. It’s even worse here because adults are actually polite about your presentation, and don’t tell you that they tuned out two slides in.


You can make the presentation any way you want, but PowerPoint presentations are there to support the content with stimulus and not serve as a place for you to dump all the text of your lesson so that you can just read it aloud. It is not a aide memoir if every bit of text in the world is written on there; it’s a script.
No one puts the script to a new movie up on screen whilst you’re trying to watch Bond do his thing.
So please, make your PowerPoint slides less verbose and simpler.
If not then you’re getting I.T. wrong.
And maybe you need my book

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