PTG Instructor Resources

What's the Point of PowerPoint

By Kathy Maxwell posted 02-12-2015 10:58

2015 Denver Technical Institute instructors will be working on their classes and presentations throughout the coming months. One of the most frequent audio-visual requests is for a projector. I bet you can remember the best - and the worst - PowerPoint presentations you've ever seen. A great visual presentation conveys information to the group in a way that holds their attention. It enhances a lecture, emphasizes key points and accommodates different learning styles. Below are some tips for developing and using PowerPoint (or any visual slides) to maximize learning in your class. Contact me at if you need more ideas.

Font and Size - Your slides should serve as an outline or overview of key points. If you have more text to share, put it in a handout. Use 28 to 36 point size for your title text. Subheadings, lists and other text can be smaller, but try not to go below 24 point. Don't put more than a couple of lines or a short list on any one slide. Use non-serif font styles in bold (those without curly ends like Arial) and try not to use more than three different fonts. Be consistent with font use (i.e. bullets in italics, titles in Lucida Console and captions in Gill Sans). Avoid scrolling or moving text. When it comes to colors, think high contrast (dark on light or light on dark). Text is easier to read. Also, don't forget that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Instructor Position - Face your audience, not the screen. Look at the computer screen in front of you if you just have to read something being projected, or are using the content to remind you of your script. Do not stand or walk in front of the screen. Position your computer, models and any other teaching resources so that you don't have to walk in front of the screen. If you want your audience to focus on what's on the screen, don't distract them by moving around too much.

Transitions - It's easy to go for clever or fun, but it's better to go for minimal slide movement and no sound. Make it quick and keep it simple. The same advice goes for both transitions between slides and slides that build by adding bullet points or other info. Consider  blacking out the screen whenever you want to stop to demonstrate or engage in some audience interaction. You can use the blackout tool in the Presenter View, a freeze command on your remote, or simply insert a black slide into your presentation.

Audio/Video - This is probably the one element of your PP presentation that has the highest risk of going wrong. Embed video and audio into a slide if you can instead of switching between programs on your computer or device. Don't rely on the speakers on your computer or projector to provide enough sound. You may need to add external speakers so that those in the back of the room can hear. Audio and video files make your file a lot larger. Be sure any files you embed are also included with the PP file if you have to change computers. Avoid using active web links (especially to video) as a part of your presentation unless you are positive your internet connection is stable and fast enough to stream smoothly.

Presenter View - This is usually an option you can choose under the Slide Show tab. If you haven't tried this, it is a wonderful tool. The audience views the slide onscreen, but the presenter can see a wide variety of features and tools on their screen, including the current slide, the next slide, a notes area, a timer, a pointer tool, a blackout tool and many more.

Test Run - Practice the entire presentation and time it. View the slides from different distances so that you are sure the back row can see them and the text is clear and large enough to read. Check the audio. If you are switching between files, programs or the internet, practice these transitions to make them as short as possible. Open everything, then minimize them so that you only need one click to move back and forth.

Backup Plan - Have a printout of the slides with you in case there is a technical glitch. There's nothing worse than standing there waiting while someone tries to get the laptop or projector to work. Be prepared for the worst. Pass around a color copy of a slide that is required to explain or demonstrate a point, or recruit a helper to write key points on an easel pad. Student handouts can help you here, too.

Follow-up - Attendees may ask for a copy of the PowerPoint and/or notes. If you are sharing the PP, you might want to save it as a PDF file. It usually creates a smaller file and can be opened by anyone with PDF reader software. You can also create slide handouts with notes as handouts.