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Olivia Widdop


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Why is it that students or audiences do not seem to engage anymore?


Death by Powerpoint is a widely acknowledged cause of death now, but how can we rectify this? Not necessarily make powerpoint better, but by engaging audiences and students alike. Why are people not interested or engaged when a presentation gets set up, and how do we change that view? 

All opinions welcome. 

29 Responses

  1. Is death by powerpoint really an acknowledged cause of death?

    sounds a bit strong to me to say that powerpoint is an acknowledged form of death!!! Anyway, I presume that this is a follow on from an earlier post about ans rticel dissing powerpoint.

    I personally think that audience don't engage because the presenter isn't engaging.  I know not everyone can be great at presenting and powerpoint probably has a good intention to aid those people who aren't naturally engaging.  I think it has the opposite effect and actually a poor powerpoint can make the presentation even more disengaging.

    Now Liv having seen a few of your post, I know you want to let everyone know about Glisser and I have had a look and I've seen the videos and actually think you do have something good to offer but it doesn't get over the basic premise that a presenter has to have some charisma and know what petrsonally engages the audience; no matter how whizzy the tool.

  2. Clive, you’re right about people

    I agree with you in regards to the simple fact that it comes down to whether the presenter does offer something, whether they're confident, funny, charismatic or even a well seasoned presenter who knows what works. But if we forget about the person presenting, what do you think can be done to create presentations that are simply more engaging? And whilst I do represent Glisser, I am more than happy to hear about presentations in general and what you think besides the person, can be done to engage further? 

    Imagine if you will, a teacher or trainer is unable to present or to teach and the presentation has to speak for them, and engage for them. How would you do that? What advice would you offer to yes, Glisser, but not just us, but to presentation software everywhere, so powerpoint, prezi, etc. 

    Also, glad you think our tool is Whizzy. Great word. 

    Powerpoint is sadly not an official cause of death, it was merely a poor attempt at humour, sorry. 



  3. that’s a great Challenge..,.

    …great question Liv; this is a challenge for me. 

    I'm a reflector so I will no doubt have a eureka moment later but just off the cuff.  I've done a bit of negative brainstorming here first so the way to make a presentation as and of itself engaging is for it to not look like a presentation. 

    It would not contain bullet-pointed lists; hard to see graphs and it wouldn't have cheesy clip art style visuals. Not packed out with lines of words that you are meant to read.

    If a presentation in and of itself could create an immediate impact; create an emotional response and get you thinking that would be ideal.

  4. Here’s my two-penneth


    Assuming this about pure presenting and not as a way of engaging an audience in a learning/training environment, because trying to create an electronic means of replacing human interaction and engagement with PP is a contradiction in my book.

    However, in order to make a presentation/pp more engaging, I agree with Clive in that it must involve mainly visuals (not text and bullet points) that support or help to tell the story; makes, or helps to make complex issues crystal clear and evoke emotions and inspiration/eureka moments.

    The days of fancy presentations with impressive and over-animation are gone, as they are just a distraction from key messages that should ultimately be delivered by the presenter i.e. a human being – unless you are trying to go where no man has gone before and create presentations that replace humans?

    Designers of presentations need to understand a little about human psychology; what is likely to grab and retain attention; what strikes emotional chords and at the emotional brain; looking at the detail in the visual and design from a graphic design perspective, not just knocking up a pp and hoping for the best.

    Having said all that, a great presenter or trainer can do a great job with poor materials, but a born' lecturer' will never bring poor materials to life….


  5. Is It True?

    Liv – I have to say I don’t experience or recognise as entirely true a lot of what you have written here.

    I am not familiar with the research, evidence or facts that support the assertion that ‘students or audiences do not seem to engage anymore?’ I presume this might be a personal opinion or experience you’re expressing here?

    I don’t agree with the claim that ‘Death by PowerPoint is a widely acknowledged cause of death now’ is it? PowerPoint is a tool, and if it’s used badly or inappropriately it will be a barrier to learning, but that doesn’t make PowerPoint bad it just means the user or operator isn’t using it appropriately.

    ‘Why are people not interested or engaged when a presentation gets set up, and how do we change that view?’ Well again, that might be your experience but I can only assume the users who making the presentations are not employing some basic rules and following some essential guidelines. Perhaps they might read Garr Reynold’s books and materials on Presentation Zen?

    You only have to watch some TED talks which frequently employ PowerPoint or an equivalent to see that some of the observation you have made in your opening statement simply aren’t true. Here’s just one example:


  6. Stop using PowerPoint

    When the beamer goes on, the brains shut off. That's my experience, at any rate. Not only the brains of the audience, but also of the presenter. How many presentations, by trainers as well as other public speakers, have you seen where the presenter stands sideways and reads off the bullet points? 

    My solution? Stop using PowerPoint. The only pre-made materials I use in my trainings are hand-outs. And preferably delivered with enough time in advance so that the participants have at least had a chance to read them. For the rest I use flipcharts as a conversation support tool. Asking questions, engaging the audience, soliciting participation – this is my technique. Not applicable for every type of training, I know. But far more than you can imagine. 

    You want people to learn? Get them to engage. You want people to sleep? Turn on the beamer.  

  7. Advice

    Always amazed at some of the "advice" on here. No wonder people are put of going on training courses!

  8. Please be directed to my post to Clive

    Garry- I appreciate your opinion. I thought I was merely opening a discussion with a potential point of view and offering others to join the discussion, if you want me to provide concrete evidence for everything I have said, I'm afraid I can't. I can provide you with the average attention span on students in lectures, and every marketing professional I have spoken to has made a reference to 'death by powerpoint' when asked about presentations. As for my statement, I thought it was fairly obvious that we as a race no longer engaged as well, anymore. Students should at least experience excitement when walking into lectures and honestly I see them enter lectures on a regular basis and I don't see excitement. I see boredom, and the willingness to leave. And I think we need to have a different tech option or something new to ensure some buzz. My opinion is that students and audiences are less engaged in presentations that include powerpoint due to the fact that it is boring, unimaginative and stunted in terms of creativity. Also as I said to Clive my attempt at humour has not been picked up, there is not a real recorded death from powerpoint, it is a mere phrase which is widely used, so I apologise if anyone was offended by my clearly terrible sense of humour. 

    As Clive has said and I agree to a point that the presenter is responsible for how engaged an audience is, and those that lack charisma or the ability to excite are going to struggle. I wanted however to get away from the human portion of it, I would never suggest a world where presentations no longer need a human, but it is not the human element I want to focus on, merely the technology. Is powerpoint as valuable a tool as it was when it was the only tool around? The short answer is definitely no, not a chance. 

    Steve- Please elaborate! Really interested in what 'advice' you're talking about! 

  9. Clive!

    Had that Eureka moment yet? We know what you think a presentation shouldn't do… 

  10. Advice

    Most of this conversation is terribly blinkered and represents the worst of what the "training community" can be at times.

    For any new trainers reading this please move on and ignore most of the above. 

    When we see a bad driver we usually blame the driver, not the car he or she is driving. Arguing about presentation software being boring is ridiculous! 

  11. Wow. Steve, you okay?

    Buddy, you seem to have some issues. I mean, I get it. It's hard to be positive and constructive. Especially if you're dealing with feelings of inadequacy or incompetence. It's so much easier to make snarky comments and be negative. 

    But, you know, you can tell us. That's what we're here for: to provide each other support and encouragement, no matter the circumstances. But if your intention is simply to trash other people's contributions or, worse, to troll us, then perhaps it's time to take your own advice and please move on. 

    Have a nice day. Hope you're feeling better. 

  12. Buddy

    To be fair "Buddy" I do actually have a point.

    If you think someone who doesn't use PowerPoint correctly will suddenly turn in to an engaging Super Presenter when given new software you are living in cloud cuckoo land. 

    Prezzi is a fine example of useless presenters still boring us and now making us nauseous at the same time. 



  13. science over subjectivity

    There is some genuine research on the topic.

    Drs Joanne Garner and Sarah Zappe (et al) carried out a series of controlled experiments to compare traditional (aka "boring bullet points") PowerPoint presentations with an alternative format of ppt.

    They found that the format affected audience comprehension and retention:-

    -immediate comprehension of complex concepts was 16% better with the alternative format

    -longer term retention of complex concepts was 18% better

    They also found that the format affected the writer of the presentation- the traditional topic/subtopic bullet-point format tended to encourage the writer to include lots more irrelevant information than the alternative format.

    They also found that the presenter was affected by format; when using bulleted lists of words presenters tended to turn away from the audience and look more at the screen than they did when using slides formatted in the alternative method.

    The study is written up in "Leadership Genius- 40 insights from the science of leading" in Chapter 36.

    I hope this helps

    Rus Slater

  14. Research

    Does it really need a couple of researchers to tell us bullet pointing is not best practice? 




  15. science over subjectivity ii

    Hi Steve

    it doesn't take a couple of researchers to 'tell us'….but it does take research to demonstrate it empirically.

    There are many things that many of us accept as received wisdom, common sense or simply bleeding obvious. But some people like to see empirical evidence for everything and everyone likes to see empirical evidence for some things.

    Take the concept of "happy workers are more productive" for example. To some managers this is a no brainer; happy people work harder and take more care. To others happiness is a sign that they aren't working hard enough!

    But the University of Warwick working with the IZA in Bonn proved that people who were happy were between 13% and 15% more productive (that is 13% when provided with one type of happiness and 15% when provided with another type) than a control group.  QED there is a genuine bottom line benefit in organisations trying to make their staff happy…it isn't just a fluffy, nice to have thing that HR departments 'think' might be a good idea.

    That study is Chapter 5 of the book BTW.



  16. Kindle

    Russ – I've just downloaded this on my Kindle, it's excellent, thanks!

    That's my Sunday completely wrecked!!!

  17. Research


    Yes but surely there is a time and place for just accepting the bleedin obvious.

    Whats next for the scientists? "Research suggests monotone voices send people to sleep" 

  18. Re: Research

    My favorite is: "Research has proven that giving trolls attention only encourages them." 

  19. the bleedin’ obvious

    Yeah….but the reality is that a lot of the research that ends up being quoted is done as a vehicle for a PHD student to demonstrate their ability. It is not unlike those pieces of miniature furniture created by apprentices; no one really needs it but it proves competence. When there is empirical proof that the bleedin' obvious is in fact true, then use it.

    Sometimes of course, the bleedin' obvious is proven to be untrue….for hundreds of years leaders did think that Machiavelli was right; people had to fear you to follow you…more recently that bleedin' obvious tenet has come under scrutiny (like the infallible superiority of German engineering and the VW scandal!) 



  20. For me it’s all about the audience…

    …what we are getting into is that people have different needs in order to make up their minds and yes some people will need to see empirical evidence and some people just go with their gut.  Neither is right or wrong and to be honest; the debate isn't right or wrong.  What I am hearing is let's not have a debate about it cos I'm right and you're wrong.

    I defer to my audience; an example of this is that I recently started working with a new group of middle managers and when I started; i explained that I wouldn't be using ppt and there was a palpable sigh of relief without exception.  I've gone back and asked them why that was and they said that they associate ppt with being given a lecture; that is being talked at or down to.  Simply put if I had used ppt, I would have lost that audience. That's good enough for me but accept that others may have different needs or views.  That's what makes the world go around.

    I am concerned about some of the seemingly bad tempered questioning of other people's views with suggestion that those views are worthless.  Let's stay professional please.

  21. Horses for courses

    Following on from my previous post on this I still think it depends on the presenter and the subject matter. I have courses that I deliver where there is a lot of information to be given for mandatory qualifications and I do use ppt – I don't use too many bullet lists 🙂 – but I do use more slides than other courses I deliver where I use about 5 or 6 slides over 2 days. I use ppt to enhance – not to do the job for me.

    I also like to think that I have honed my delivery skills over many years so that if there was a power cut and I couldn't use technology, I could still deliver an effective experience for my delegates and I think that is the point – ppt is just one of many tools I use in order to enhance the learning experience. In the wrong hands – any tool is at best useless, at worst dangerous!

  22. Learning

    Learning isn't all about plastic clappy hands and having fun and doing energetic things. Sometimes it's very uncomfortable and so it should be…

    Being nice all the time helps nobody…

  23. Learning Differences?

    Being a reflector and possible over thinker; I was thinking that I stopped using powerpoint actively about 12 years ago when it was really the only game in town.  The reason was that I was working for a charty and with lots of groups with learning differences and people who might have visual impairments – ppt just didn't work for them.

    So my question, to those that are actively using ppt, is how do you tailor the use of ppt for those who may be visually impaired or have specific learning differences like dyslexia, for example.  Is it something that you are able to identify and do something about, is it something you think about?

  24. Learning styles

    I'm not a big fan of learning style theory. It's a bit like saying "I always vote Labour" or "I've always supported Man Utd"

    If you say you are a pragmatist often enough you start living up to it. Bit like star signs.

    "you are such a Capricorn" 

    Learners (ie humans) are far more complex than that. 

    Well designed training courses cater for all humans whatever they prefer or whatever issues they bring with them. 

    Been doing this 20 years and have never heard "help me I'm an activist" 

  25. not sure if your reply was to me Steve but…

    … Hi Steve not sure if your last post was a  specific reply to my question about Learning Differences but if so, I am not talking about learning styles but about specific Learning Differences e.g. visual impairments; dyslexia etc.  Those people who can't physically connect with ppt for those reasons.  For the record I don't put lots of stock by learning styles theory and I'm also not a fan of plastic clappy hands and those type of toys.  So you say that well designed courses cater for all humans – what would you do to cater for people with those people with the differences mentioned? Always interested in getting a different perspective on things.

  26. Experts

    Hi Clive

    Not at all…just a bit uncomfortable when anyone says "I am a…"

    I would always get the experts in. 

    Sorry only limited experience of working with disability. The one time I did the "expert" cost more than getting a NASA astronaut with a couple of moon landings under his belt.

    Story for another day about experts in disability field!!



  27. get the charities in…

    Thanks Steve;  fyi you might actually get advice from a charity a lot cheaper than a private expert.  In my experience some are happy to help for a small donation.

  28. I think the times are
    I think the times are changing, gamerfication is already on the horizon and offers a more two way experience. Maybe people dont like just reading off projectors anymore 🙁

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Olivia Widdop

Head of Content and Events

Read more from Olivia Widdop

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