The pros and cons of PowerPoint
These days PowerPoint is part of any speaker’s armoury. Yet no doubt you, like me, have seen PowerPoint used both well and badly. Used well it can contribute greatly to the hearer’s understanding. Used badly it can be a significant distraction as the hearer is trying to work out what a slide says and means rather than listening to the speaker.
In this three part series I shall look at some of the basics I have found useful in using PowerPoint, whether for sermon illustration or as part of a presentation in a training programme.
How not to
Recently I have been in two ‘bad’ settings. In one a responsibility tree was put on the screen with a minimum of 50 ‘pods’, probably more. The purpose of the presentation was to explain the authority structure this ‘tree’ represented. But the speaker himself said ‘you probably can’t read this’ – so why show it?! It would not have been difficult to break the tree into components, starting with a schematic of the tree and then taking each branch in turn with just a few pods to show how they related together.
In the second setting the speaker showed her notes on the screen then read from them. The text was too dense for the audience to read easily and if she only wanted to read what was on the screen why not read her notes and let us concentrate rather than try to decipher the tiny text?! Here, she could easily have revealed some key words as she reached each salient point.
Sadly, although many speakers who are good at using PowerPoint, poor presentations such as above are too common. I hope this series might help bring some improvement.
PowerPoint may be used for at least three purposes.
- PowerPoint provides essential subject matter which is showing the material that is being described, as in the first example above. As such it replaces a handout and is a good aid to communication. It is in fact, better than a handout as it ensures that all the hearers are focussed on the same point, unlike a handout where differing reading speeds and the desire to read ahead makes it difficult to hold the audience’s attention. A handout may be useful at the end as a reminder.
- The second purpose is as a Visual Aid, material that supports. It is not essential but it enhances and helps clarify what is being said by the speaker. Used in this way it can provide pegs on which the content is hung. In this form it probably also gives the key headings for any notes that the hearers may be taking.
- Finally, the presentation may be ‘self standing’ ie it is itself what is being communicated.
Let me give you an example of its use as a Visual Aid. Recently I heard an excellent sermon which began with a brief history of the Israelites, from Abraham to the Promised Land. As the preacher was speaking I was feeling how helpful it would have been to have had a developing timeline on the screen to show how the events linked together. He of course spoke of their travels as well. It would have been most helpful to have had a map showing some of this detail, for instance the distances from Egypt to Canaan.
A few months ago I spoke from the book of Nehemiah. To be able to show with a map how the geography of that period linked with the modern Iraq and Iran brought the story to life. I was also able to show the large distances they had to cover. Further, I used a timeline to show the various stages of the captivity into Babylon and then on into Persia, with the different ‘returns’ and the rebuilding of the temple.
So much for some of the philosophy. In the next blog I will give a few tips for what I consider ‘good practice’. There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but there are such things as choice and size of text that significantly affect the hearers’ pleasure and ability to absorb the material you are trying to present.