Powerpoint: do more with less in your lecture

Powerpoint presentations are an obvious teaching tool for many lecturers. However, putting a good PowerPoint presentation together is not as simple as it seems. Take advantage of these tips! 

What is the general rule of thumb with PowerPoint presentations? 

The phrase ‘less is more’ applies to many things in life, including PowerPoint presentations. So, do more with less. Do not overload your slides with (continuous) text and choose an uncluttered layout: limit yourself to one font type and a maximum of two font colours to emphasise keywords. Don’t overuse bold and italics; otherwise, they lose their effect. Also, you should not forget that you as a lecturer – and what you have to say during your lecture – is always more important than the slideshow you project. In other words, consider the presentation as complementary to and support for the lesson, and not as the central part. 

How do you prepare a good PowerPoint presentation? 

Choose the appropriate font and layout 

When you use the UGent template for PowerPoint presentations, the font is automatically set to Arial. That is a safe choice: Arial is a sans-serif font that is well-suited for image and projection screens. You can also choose the official UGent font UGent Panno Text, but keep in mind that it is not installed on every computer. In other words, when you play your presentation from a computer other than yours, you may encounter some unpleasant surprises. Should you choose UGent Panno Text, please adjust the font size of your text, because the UGent font is smaller than Arial, for example. 

Insert thoughtful visual elements 

Information you offer through different channels (visual, auditory, text and image) is easier to remember. Of course, you have to make sure that this information is congruent: therefore, word and image must support each other. For example, a diagram can make the structure of the learning material visible. Give students enough time to view the illustrations, diagrams or graphs before proceeding with your presentation. 

Occasionally include an element of surprise 

Surprise effects in your presentation allow you to retain or regain your students' attention. Don't overthink it: alternating between different types of slides (e.g., deviate from text with bullets, and also include keywords scattered over a slide) can often be enough. Also, an illustration, diagram or graph can help to support your story and keep the students alert. One golden rule: do not exaggerate; otherwise, you will quickly lose the surprise effect. 

Limit animations 

Animations can help build your story without giving everything away from the start. For example, you can develop and shape a diagram with the students. But once again, if you use too many special effects, your students will soon lose attention again. 

Occasionally draw attention to yourself, away from the presentation 

We said it in the beginning: you as a lecturer, not your PowerPoint presentation, are the most important part of your lecture. So, sometimes it may be necessary to the focus attention on yourself. By pressing ‘ W’ or ‘B’ ('W' or 'Z' in the Dutch version) on the keyboard, you can project a white or black screen respectively. As a result, your presentation 'disappears', allowing you to put more emphasis on what you are saying. You can also pre-schedule these moments by inserting a white slide in the presentation. 

Get a backup plan in case you have no internet connection 

If you want to use the internet during your presentation, keep in mind that the connection may sometimes fail. Therefore, make sure you create print screens of the web pages you want to show. You can make those slides invisible in the preparation and only make them visible when the internet connection does not work. 

Number the slides 

Try to number all the slides to facilitate notetaking for your students, even if you haven't managed to print the slides in advance. 

Post your presentation online before the lecture 

By making your lecture slides available in advance, you encourage students to take notes, which promotes the learning process. A condition is that the slides are not too detailed, as that will have the opposite effect and discourage students from taking notes. Therefore, use slides that reflect the structure of the presentation (the so-called 'skeletal'), allowing students to take structured notes. 

If you don't want to reveal the surprise elements by making slides available in advance, you can opt for two versions: one without the surprise elements, which you give to the students before the lecture, and one with the surprise elements, which you use during the lecture and possibly post on Ufora afterwards. 

You help students who want to follow the lecture with a hard copy of the presentation by: 

  • publishing the presentation well in advance; 
  • publishing the presentation in a printer-friendly format (e.g., pdf); 
  • publishing the presentation with one slide per page; 
  • not using a dark background colour. 

Make your presentation flexible 

  • Hyperlinks 
    You can insert hyperlinks to slides in your presentation when, for example, you provide some slides that you only want to show if your students need additional information or if there is enough time left. Add those slides at the end of the presentation. Where you want to show the optional slides, place the hyperlink. Of course, also insert a hyperlink in those optional slides to take you back to the original slide. 
  • Hide slides 
    It is possible to hide slides in Powerpoint. This can be useful, for example, when you want to show the same presentation to two different groups, but do not want to show some slides per group. In other words, you can easily reuse the same presentation.  

Make your presentation accessible to everyone 

If you decide to use PowerPoint in your lectures, you should make your slides accessible to everyone. This video from ahead combines some advice that allows you to make your presentations a lot more accessible to students with disabilities. 

How do you make good use of a PowerPoint presentation in your lecture? 

Pay attention to the pace 

A PowerPoint presentation does not lend itself to controlling the pace like when you work with a board or transparencies. As a result, you tend to go through the learning material much faster. After all, writing on the board takes time, while with a PowerPoint presentation, you can go to the next slide with one click. Be aware of that risk and do not project one slide after another at a fast pace. This rule of thumb usually works well: each slide should be visible for at least 1 minute. 

Use speaker notes 

When you design a PowerPoint presentation, you can create personal notes in the notes area. They are not visible to the students but are useful for the lecturer to go through the presentation before the lecture. For example, if you address a question from students during the lectures, the notes can help you to pick up where you left off. 

Want to know more? 

  • Read these interesting books about PowerPoint: 
    • Atkinson, C. 2005. Beyond bullet points: Using Microsoft Powerpoint to create presentations that inform, motivate and inspire. Redmond, Washington: Microsoft Press International. 
    • Reynolds G. 2008. Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices that Matter). USA: New Riders Press. 
  • Read the sources on which this tip is based: 
    • Bartsch, R.A., Cobern, K.M. (2003). Effectiveness of Powerpoint presentations in lectures. Computers and Education. 41, p. 44-86 
    • ICT Onderwijscentrum VU. Tips voor het gebruik van Powerpoint in het onderwijs. Professionaliseringstraject voor docenten. 'Retrieved on 4 februari 2015, from http://consilr.info.uaic.ro/uploads_lt4el/resources/ftxtdutPowerPoint%20in%20Education.txt
    • Studentenvertegenwoordigers FRiS (2017). Suggesties over het gebruik en het online zetten van slides.  

Last modified Feb. 19, 2021, 12:01 p.m.