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Joel Walmsley

It never ceases to surprise me how many people will obey the above rules, but then simply go through the presentation one whole slide at a time.

(e.g., You have four bullet points on the slide, but then you bring up ALL FOUR at once, with the consequence that the audience immediately reads the lot of them in a way that (a) distracts from the speaker, and (b) precedes their relevance in the unfolding argument.)

So consider this a plea for people to make more use of the function whereby one can bring in the bullet points one-by-one, even though they all appear (eventually) on the same slide.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Trevor: Great post! Given how many people seem to despise Powerpoint (viz. "death by powerpoint"), it's a wonder we've never discussed it here before.

I think your starting list is pretty good, though I think I would amend (5) a bit. I don't think one has to have one's slides largely committed to memory. Many of us teach so many classes that it is really hard to do that. I find the key is to have enough text on each slide (in each bulletpoint) that it will immediately jog your memory, giving you stuff to talk about, but not so much text that you are tempted to read the slides.

Let me also clarify this a bit. In my experience, the amount and kind of text on each slide is crucial. On this issue, I have consistently encountered two kinds of bad powerpoint presentations:

(A) Ones whose slides are so sparse that they are hardly helpful to the audience at all (you do need to give detail in the slides).

(B) Ones whose slides are so chock full of text that it's not only hard to take in (as there's so much of it), but which also inevitably leads the presenter to read the entire wall of text, which makes it all the worse.

Although finding the right median between these two extremes is not easy, I've found that four main bullet points or so (with a few subheadings under one or two of the main bulletpoints) on each slide seems to be about right.

In any case, I agree with Joel Walmsley on using the "appear" animations. I tend to use them, but every once in a while I forget to use them in a slide, and I can see the audience appear visibly overwhelmed when the entire slide appears at once. Using animations enables you to ease the audience through one point at a time.

Anyway, here are a few additional suggestions I would make:

(6) Use the "widescreen" format, rather than normal slide format. I find the normal size slides to be too cramped for a good median amount of text. The widescreen format frees up a great deal of room.

(7) Highlight key terms and/or subheadings in another color text. It not only adds some color, but can also help students avoid feeling overwhelmed with so much information.

(8) It can be helpful to devote a slide here or there which prompt students to think about some specific question(s) and/or write down an answer and/or discuss the question with a partner or two. First, it breaks things up. I've seen that if I stick to traditional "lecture and discussion" for too long, students start to glaze over. Getting them to answer a question/discuss it with a partner can jolt them out of complacency, and get really good discussions started. Secondly, and relatedly, it gets students active and involved in their own learning--both taking the pressure off of you to lecture the whole time, but also getting them to think for themselves!

Shane J. Ralston

I worked in business before I came to academic philosophy. I saw a lot of atrocious PowerPoint presentations. My sense was that they were geared for a person with a short attention span (e.g. big text, fancy graphics, eye-popping animations, etc.). As a student, I preferred my professors' lectures without PowerPoint any day. I actually had to follow his/her line of reasoning, not stare mindlessly at a screen. At that time (1990s), almost every classroom had a lectern at the front and center of the classroom that you'd have to move aside if you wanted to set up for a PowerPoint presentation. Now the standard setup is a podium to the side of the front of the room where you can find the computer console to load your PowerPoint and the screen front and center with projector usually on the ceiling. The lectern has either disappeared or been pushed off to the side of the room or, in my university, into a dusty storage closet. Personally, I only use PowerPoint for conference presentations (where it's becoming the professional norm) and in my logic courses. It's especially helpful for teaching truth tables. Otherwise, I find that it's an impediment to active thinking. I now have to endure the Sisyphean task of taking the lectern out of the closet and dragging it to the front and center of the classroom and then returning it to the storage closet before and after every class I teach (if I don't return it I might upset my colleagues who use PowerPoint religiously).

Michel X.

9.) DON'T have too many slides. For a 25-minute conference presentation, I give myself about ten slides. I guess about 2 minutes per slide is good. Corollary: I'd avoid displaying slide numbers/presentation progression numbers. They just structure expectations in a way that's not entirely felicitous, and can lead to audience despair as you drone on.

10.) DO refer to your slides. Don't just talk and flip through them as you're talking (or, for conferences, reading your paper). This applies to handouts, too. USE the bloody tool, or lose it!

11.) RESPECT THE TIME LIMIT. Corollary (especially for conference presenters, chronic over-timers, and those new to these kinds of presentations): practice your flipping talk, do it more than twice, and nail down your timing.

I think the rules are pretty much the same as they are for handouts, with the caveat that I seldom see the handout executed all that well either. Also, a small note on my (9) above: for teaching, I don't actually just flip through slides. I'll prepare a few slides with pictures/diagrams/a central argument/discussion questions/group assignments, just to help illustrate the points we're talking about and so that students have reference points, but that just adds up to a handful or so of slides.

Scott Clifton

In my experience the very presence of PowerPoint leads many students to view class as a show, where they are a passive audience to be entertained. If this is what they are expecting, then one might very well feel tempted to snazz up the presentation with graphics, transitions, etc. I realized long ago that I didn't want my students to see themselves as a passive audience, so I have avoided PowerPoint for the most part for several years.

Yet, I have still found that I need to put things on the screen for us to consider--usually passages from the reading assignment. For this reason I just use basic MS Word and convert the documents to .pdf's. Some--not many--previous students have commented in student evaluations that they'd rather have PP than black and white text, but for the most part, this is a nice intermediate solution between PP presentations that give the impression of there being some entertainment value and no visual representations at all, other than material written on a dry erase board. It's worked very well for me, but I also try to avoid straightforward lecture, so maybe this solution works best for those who approach class in this way, rather than allotting considerable time to simply presenting a lecture.

Joshua Mugg

To avoid having too much info on the slide, information YOU need but your students probably don't, you can use the 'notes' feature. When viewing the PPT in presentation view, the notes are visible to the side of the PPT slide on your screen, but not on the projection.

Trevor Hedberg

Good suggestions, everyone. I now have a few new techniques to try.

I should probably clarify in (5) that I don't think you're forbidden to use other notes (perhaps in the fashion Joshua describes) while giving a PPT presentation: the point is that you shouldn't ever just read your slides. I think in my own experience that's been the #1 turnoff for students.

Axel Gelfert

Personally, I find the most important rule to be a version of (2): don't include too many items of interest in the same slide. Sometimes this is taken to mean: don't use unnecessary animations, don't include too much text, instead only use keywords and/or a picture. But I think slides with text only can work well -- if one doesn't display it all in one go. For example, I sometimes (often?) show extensive quotes on the same slide, but I make sure that the text appears only step by step. So, a quote might appear successively, one sentence at a time. This way, the audience doesn't skip ahead (which would distract from what the speaker is saying), and it gives the presenter control over the sequence in which information is encountered. Also, *if* you display text, *do* read it out aloud -- don't use slides as a substitute for your manuscript and/or your notes, but don't force the audience to multitask by expecting them to read text that you yourself aren't reading out aloud. -- On a different note, the worst Powerpoint presentation I ever encountered was given by a keynote speaker at a conference in Hong Kong: my jaw dropped when I saw the slide count (60 slides or so, all filled with text), and predictably the text-per-slide ratio increased exponentially as the presentation progressed slowly. By the time the allotted time period was over, the speaker was barely halfway through his slides, the font size had reached 8pt or less, none of which was sufficient to stop the speaker who just kept going...


I would like to point out something that not many may be aware of: the play of light and dark and, moreover, the high contrast used by projectors are triggers for some who suffer from migraine disease. This means that watching a powepoint presentation can trigger a migraine attack for some, which brings about nausea and/vomitting, temporary loss of sight, blinding head pain, dizziness, temporary aphasia, etc. I would like to ask everyone who uses powepoint in their presentations to consider whether it's essential to their presentation that they do so. To evaluate the essentiality, ask yourself, for instance, if you could achieve the same results by using the chalk board or a paper handout (this may not be feasible in large lectures) Then, if you do use it, please don't be offended if members of your audience get up and leave the presentation.

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