Do slide-driven presentations enhance public speaking?

Speakers have become presenters and the use of Powerpoint (or other presentation packages) has become the norm. Powerpoint has transformed the way we prepare and lecture in not many years, sometimes for the better, but all too often for the worse. I’m interested in what effects there are and what works and what doesn’t work. Could Powerpoint do for audiences and students in particular what fastfood has done for diet? How do different practices affect pedagogic outcomes? What should we be avoiding?
There’s surprisingly little research on this. Much of the advice comes from business. But the aims of business presentations are not the same as those of education. The advice is rarely founded clearly on rigorous research. So far my research in this area has been largely confined to sources related to business presentations and the advice often fits with my obversations and experience. Having found myself becoming more and more reliant on Powerpoint, but fed-up with so many presentations I decided to see what information was available. Two books have stood out so far; one is Richard Atkinson’s “Lend Me Your Ears” (2004), and Richard E. Mayer’s “Multimedia Learning” (2001) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. The first is an entertaining and powerful book about public speaking in most contexts. It touches on the use of slide presentations but has some good advice on when and how to use slides (see separate page). Richard Mayer is an educational psychologist and appears to be the leading writer and researcher on multimedia learning (advice to follow).

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Max Atkinson’s comments and advice about the use of Powerpoint

Max Atkinson (2004) ‘Lend me Your Ears’

‘The slide-driven presentation that has become the industry standard model has resulted in a style of presentation that does little to inspire or enthuse audiences. The problem is at its worst when the slides consist of nothing but text or table of numbers. Such heavy reliance on written words and numbers almost guarantees that the presentation will contain far too much information, and be presented in a form of language that is likely to be dull and boring. It also means that the audience’s attention will be divided between trying to listen and read at the same time.“Audiences like to be shown things that help them to understand what the speaker is talking about, so the visual aids most likely to attract positive ratings are ones that are genuinely visual or pictorial, rather than textual or numerical. Visual aids that go down well with audiences:

· Objects, props and demonstrations

· Pictures, ivideo clips [and almost any other graphical item such as maps, charts and charts]

  • Non-visual exceptions

· Blank slides i.e. black background [audience switches focus to what is being said]

· Using handouts during a talk”

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