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PowerPoint Tip #3 – Should You Even Use PowerPoint?


Should You Even Use PowerPoint?

Most of what you will find in the PowerPoint Centre are practical, "how to" tips on how to use PowerPoint. This month, I want to address the "if, how, and when" of using this ubiquitous presentation tool. You may think everyone in training, professional speaking, and sales uses PowerPoint. WRONG! I receive some very pointed anti-PowerPoint feedback at times. Some are adamantly opposed to using it, because they feel that a multimedia presentation will overshadow their material.

We must remember that the first rule of any effective training event or presentation is that content and presenter delivery are the decisive elements in that event’s success. PowerPoint is a supportive teaching and presentation tool that can help you deliver your message more pointedly and clearly. It can also keep the audience/learners’ attention focused on the wonders of the tool rather than the training material if used improperly.

A sample of expert opinions on the use of multimedia in presentations is very illuminating. Training professionals share a great deal with public speaking professionals (and sales professionals) in that the way material is presented is key to the acceptance, internalisation, retention, recall, and use of information.

Patricia Fripp, a professional presenter, executive speaking coach, and author warns business executives, "Don’t let your people fall into the trap of using technology as a substitute for communicating directly with their members. Their audiences want to connect with a leader, not glossy graphics. By all means, use audio/visual technology as a valuable support, but never, never lose the powerful personal touch! IT SHOULD SERVE YOU AND YOUR MESSAGE, not the other way around. Use it at is was designed to be used - to enhance your message, not to eclipse it."

Marjorie Broady, also a professional speaker, executive coach, seminar leader and author, encourages the use of computers in public speaking, and adds, "There are many ways that computers can contribute visually to your presentations. Computers allow you to make simulations of products or structures before they are actually built, which can eliminate the need for expensive prototypes. They also permit you to go online during a meeting to showcase your Web site or dissect your competitors’ sites."

Joseph Robinson, Ph.D., professional management consultant, in a Presentations magazine article from the February 2000 issue, warns of getting addicted to PowerPoint and allowing it to weaken the delivery your message or being a prop for weak organisation: "I have no quarrel with graphics that are well-chosen and effectively used. Good visuals can communicate complicated relationships, show trends, highlight comparisons and clarify content that’s difficult to put into words. But even the best graphics cannot compare with the eye-to-eye impact you have when you are at centre stage, rather than a disembodied voice from the shadows." (Be sure to contact for a reprint of their February 2000 issue (a PowerPoint Special Issue) "PowerPoint: Why We Love It…Why We Hate It." It’s well worth the investment!)

[For the salespeople reading this (and private training consultants who make sales presentations), Jay Conrad Levinson, in Guerrilla Marketing Weapons: 100 Marketing Methods for Maximizing Profits from Your Small Business, argues strongly in favour of audio-visual aids. He states that "facts presented to the ear and eye are 68 percent more effective than facts presented to the ear alone. That’s because people absorb the vast majority of information in their lives visually." Also see for articles by Jay Conrad Levinson.]

Presenting a theoretical perspective on whether multimedia use in training is effective, Lawrence Najjar writes, (in "Multimedia information and learning," Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, (1996), 5, 129-150) "…empirical studies support the idea that multimedia may help people learn. Multimedia that encourages the information to be processed referentially, building dual-coded verbal and pictorial cognitive representations, seems to improve learning."

Multimedia may also improve learning by allowing instructional designers to use the most effective medium to present specific information. Najjar illustrates possible effective uses of multimedia in the table below, based on a limited number of empirical studies.

Empirically-Supported Suggestions for Allocating Media
Information to be Learned Suggested Presentation Media
Assembly instructions Text with supportive pictures
Procedural information Explanatory text with a diagram or animation
Problem-solving information Animation with explanatory verbal narration
Recognition information Pictures
Spatial information Pictures
Small amounts of verbal information for a short time Sound
Story details Video with a soundtrack (or text with supportive illustrations)

For more detail from this study, Also see

The misuse of PowerPoint is unfortunate, and equally unfortunate is the shunning of this splendid training tool. Multimedia is useful in conveying certain concepts more clearly and enhancing communication and learning in our very visual society — a simple examination on the effects of television reveals the power of multimedia in learning. The "Nintendo" Generation—those Generation X, Y, etc. people who have grown up with high-powered video and computers — expect you to present your training events graphically, and their receptivity to learning and their retention of training is enhanced with the even use of multimedia. The same can be true of the non-Nintendo-Generation learners, provided your multimedia presentations do not look like a video game.


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