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Ten Ways to Improve your Class Presentations

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Remember when it was totally uncool to know how to do stuff on a computer? These days, you’ll be left behind if you don't know how to share what you had for lunch on at least three different social networks. But when it comes to communication at uni, it’s all about everyone’s favourite software stalwart, Microsoft PowerPoint.

We’ve all used it; we all continue to use it. Does that mean we know how to use it well, though? Don’t bet on it.

The inducement of boredom and slide fatigue are common complaints, and PowerPoint presentations have also been criticised for reducing complex issues into simplistic bullet points, and inviting presenters to simply read from the slides. There is even a political party in Switzerland whose entire platform is to ban PowerPoint presentations from boardrooms. They claim that PowerPoint costs the Swiss economy alone 2.1 billion Francs annually. Shame, Microsoft.

The real problem is that we often use PowerPoint to convey information without even thinking about why we are using it, or what we want to achieve.

One perfect example is a summer school subject I recently took. Fifteen percent of the assessment was to submit a PowerPoint presentation on a particular topic. Not to present it to the class – just to send a research assignment in .ppt format to the lecturer. What were they going to do, grab their blankets and some popcorn for a fun night in?

Even if we had have been asked to present the slides, the fact that I’d focused my research effort into condensing the concepts down into endless bullet points meant that I’d tailored my material to suit the PowerPoint slides I was arranging it on. Instead, ladies and gentlemen of law studies, we should be tailoring our PowerPoints (and other technological aids) to suit our material.

By using technology to aid, rather than deliver your presentations, you’ll be able to focus on delivering your message clearly and in a memorable way… which brings me to my ten hot tips for improving your use of technology in class presentations:

  1. Let your prepared notes guide your presentation, not your PowerPoint. Be tempted to not even look at your PowerPoint.

  2. Remember that you’re talking to a human audience, not to PowerPoint. People like to hear you speak slowly, clearly, and with a bit of expression and body language.

  3. Invite your audience to think, rather than absorb your content.

  4. To that effect, use simple and thought-provoking media. Short quotes, an interesting picture or video, an anecdote, or a funny slide titles will bring your audience’s attention to the topic.

  5. Use less text on your slides. There’s nothing worse than having to read an entire paragraph of a judgment from a projector screen, or listening to someone read what’s already in plain sight.

  6. For that matter, use less everything on your slides. I don’t want to see tables, graphs, text, some vaguely relevant picture, and a surprise clip-art man exploding onto the screen. I just want to be able to think about what you’re saying without being distracted.

  7. An interesting presentation does not need garish colours, designs, animations, or fonts. At the same time, it does need to be more interesting to look at than a plain Word document.

  8. Be consistent in your slide designs. Yes, PowerPoint is so flexible, but I really want to focus on your content, not your skills in data layout or graphic design.

  9. Try something different to PowerPoint altogether. Check out Prezi, a popular alternative to PP.

  10. Remember the Golden Rule: use technology to aid your presentation, not to actually deliver it!

Together, we might just be able to save ourselves from Death by PowerPoint… and a whole lotta Swiss Francs.

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