PowerPoint Revisited




Judicious PowerPoint


Half the 60 readers responding to my January column applauded my characterization of PowerPoint as often overused and abused.  Quotes include “right on target,” “hit the nail on the head.”  A pharmacy professor reflected “Done wrong, PowerPoint is more potent than Secobarbital.”  Thanks for the reinforcement! 


The other half were kind but critical.  “We should certainly be critical of those who haven’t taken the time to learn to use it properly.”  “The problem is with the presenters, not with the software per se…”   These critics urge that characterized PowerPoint as “often abused by others but usually useful if used my way.”


The virtual “tie vote” on my column suggests that we’ll be seeing a lot of PowerPoint for many years to come.  Recognizing that PowerPoint, like kudzu, will be used by all of us; this column is devoted to sharing responders suggestions about how to use the tool productively.  You may wish to add these to the January list of suggestions.


  1. Decide purpose of slide/presentation: Provide overview vs. Add detail
  2. Minimize or avoid animated text, sounds, and fancy transitions.
  3. Avoid switching between programs (e.g. calling up a web page)
  4. Use contrasting but complementary colors.
  5. Avoid laser pointers.
  6. Enable students to take notes on 3 handouts of 3 slides per page
  7. Keep unity of design from slide to slide; use a master slide
  8. Remember the “Joy of Six”: maximum of 6 points per slide & 6 words per point
  9. Use text sparingly
  10. Blackout the screen (use “B” on keyboard) after the point has been made
  11. Use the Floor Test: Print it out and make sure you can feed hit on the floor while standing up


These points add up to one overwhelming point: MINIMIZE DISTRACTIONS!



Before leaving the topic of PowerPoint I cannot resist mentioning four uses of PowerPoint that transform the classroom from “sage on the stage” to a truly interactive learning environment:

1.      Have students, properly trained, make the PowerPoint presentations—especially of team projects..

2.      Open a blank PowerPoint slide and type in the main points as they emerge from a classroom discussion.

3.      Number your points so that students can quickly focus their questions








Every one of the above ideas was mentioned by at least three readers.  They work at research universities and community colleges.  They are are high school teachers and graphic designers.  For all of us, I say “thank you.”  Our profession is richer because you have shared you ideas.