You’ve been drinking way too many cups of coffee. You’ve been pinching your arms, hands, legs, knees, and even your ears. It seems that, no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to fight off the sleepiness.
The good news? This isn’t your fault. The bad news? It seems that you still have to endure the remaining 30 minutes of some boring PowerPoint presentation.
If this sounds familiar, no worries. We’ve all been there. Even though PowerPoint can be a useful tool, it poses some potential risks when it comes to learning. Here are five ways that PowerPoint can harm your learning.
1. It can discourage complex thinking
Few things are more misleading than when a PowerPoint presentation is oversimplifying and skipping essential points related to a topic. This can make the audience believe that the topic is far simpler than it actually is, creating a huge gap between the reality and the perception.
According to Paul Ralph at Business Insider, PowerPoint slides discourage complex thinking. As he said:
“Slides encourage instructors to present complex topics using bullet points, slogans, abstract figures and oversimplified tables with minimal evidence. They discourage deep analysis of complex, ambiguous situations because it is nearly impossible to present a complex, ambiguous situation on a slide. This gives students the illusion of clarity and understanding.”
How to avoid it?
If you are presenting on a complex topic, make sure to include the essential bullet points. You should also clarify from the start that the information you are presenting is just the tip of the iceberg. If audience members want to understand the material better, recommend some specific resources. Include these specific resources on the last slide. This will give them a more realistic view on how big the topic can get. This way, it’s their choice to pay attention to your disclaimer and follow up with the resources later.
2. It can lead to lazy thinking
A PowerPoint presentation often works like a script for the presenter. Then, when a question is asked, there are often two possible outcomes:
If the answer is in the presentation, he or she will say “I will cover that answer in my next slides.”
If the answer is not in the presentation, he or she will say “I am not completely sure, let me check on that and get back to you.”
Arthur Drobin says the following in an article from Psychology Today: “PowerPoint isn’t only a problem for audiences who must sit through boring presentations in the dark, but just as significantly for the presenter who is stuck with the information on the slide. Using PowerPoint leads to lazy thinking. All too often the presenter can’t answer questions that aren’t immediately relevant.”
How to avoid it?
Your PowerPoint presentation shouldn’t be your script. You should have knowledge and experience pertaining to the topic which you are presenting. Of course, you may get some surprising questions that will make you have to think a bit on your feet.
By knowing your topic well, you should be able to answer most questions that come up, even if the answers aren’t included in your slides. So, when a question is raised, take a step back and truly consider it — not just whether or not it appears on your slides.
3. It can kill productivity
When I was working for one of the biggest companies in Norway, a majority of the elite employees were avid users of creating PowerPoint presentations. When you begin to miss meetings because you are creating PowerPoint presentations for other meetings, how productive are you? Being busy is certainly not the same thing as being productive.
This is a point that an article on Computerworld backs up: “Tremendous amounts of time are spent in the military on putting together presentations, and [this] takes away from true productivity.”
Even more importantly, it’s not easy to learn new material when you’re busying yourself with unproductive and unfocused work.
How to avoid it?
PowerPoint should be used as a supportive tool that will enhance your presentation. Do your presentation without notes and use just a few well-selected PowerPoint slides. PowerPoint should be used to enhance important sections of your presentation. This might be a few bullet points or a graph that is backing up the point you are speaking about.
Or, do like Jason Dorsey, who gave a presentation in front of a large crowd without PowerPoint slides.
4. It can drown your audience
There is a metaphor regarding presenting information that goes like this: “If someone asks for a glass of water, don’t spray them with the fire hose.”
Few things are more annoying than when you ask someone a specific question, one that should require a short answer, and they start giving you a big lecture.
Edward Tufte said, “In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds’ worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another.”
How to avoid it?
Even though there is seldom a maximum number of slides for a business presentation, this doesn’t mean that you need to drown your audience in slides. Respect them and let them breathe. The fewer slides you have and the more succinct they are, the easier it will be for you to keep their attention and to get your points across. They will respect you more since you didn’t waste their time.
Another bonus is that you didn’t waste your own time on making a huge amount of unnecessary slides.
5. It can lead to serious misunderstandings
When a complex topic is presented on PowerPoint slides, it can be very difficult for the audience to interpret and understand the real message. This can lead to serious misunderstandings. Some incidents are more severe than others: New York Times columnist Clive Thompson blames the space shuttle Columbia accident on poor use of PowerPoint.
How to avoid it?
First of all, you need to know your topic. Then, you need to put yourself in the audience’s shoes. Make the PowerPoint presentation very simple to understand, like you are presenting the topic to a ten-year-old kid.
Remember that your audience will probably not know the topic as well as you do. It can be highly admirable when a person can explain a complex topic in a simple way.
PowerPoint is a worthy and supportive tool — when it’s used in the right way. The intention of using PowerPoint should be to enhance your message, not to make it more unclear.
What is your experience with PowerPoint? Have you experienced a good PowerPoint presentation that delivered the message in a succinct way?
Featured photo credit: Michael Kellett / Michael Kellett Professional Photograph via flickr.com