PowerPoint-itis

by Donna Lichaw on 27 May 2014

I've been teaching and presenting for clients, students, and peers for over a decade. Early on, slides were difficult to produce because one had to take photographs, get slides developed, find a projector, on and on... I used slides often when I presented as a student, but only if the they were a necessity – like, to illustrate an example best suited for visual representation. As a someone who taught film and video production, web design, and communication studies, I never used slides. It would have taken too much prep time to produce so many lectures. Also, slides did not add more value than writing on a whiteboard, playing a video, or projecting examples from a computer. Honestly, there was no real crisis in education because of a lack of slides in the classroom. Classes were interactive, and maybe involved lots of arm flailing to illustrate points. I'm not saying it was better than today, but just different.

Break free fromPowerPoint

 Fast forward many years and many, if not most of us who present and teach have PowerPoint-itis. Or Keynote-itis, if that is your drug of choice. Yes, one can learn the art of great presentation design. Yes, some presentations are wonderful and help support what a presenter says or teaches. But are projected slide presentations always necessary? I don't think so. I recently gave a talk on a panel where we had the choice to create slides or not. We decided to forgo slides and instead rely on strong storytelling to present our ideas. We presented without slides and and the audience loved it. Afterwards, many people came up to us thanking us for not using slides. Is a talk or lesson a talk or lesson without slides? At the same conference, a keynote speaker – a design executive – prepared a deck for her talk. As often happens, the projector broke before she went on stage, so she had to give the entire talk without slides. And guess what? It was an amazing talk and I don't see how slides would have made it any better. And I heard the same comments from audience members so relieved to not have to sit through yet another slide presentation. If slides are not necessary for certain types of public presentations, what about when teaching design classes? While many of us agree with Steve Jobs' assertion that design is not how something looks, but is instead how something works, teaching design lends itself to visual representation. Can you teach design without slides? Absolutely. Slides are not the only way to visually represent things that you need to communicate with a classroom.

An alternative style

Recently, I sat in on several Webcredible classes in the UK so that I could learn their teaching and presentation style and get ready to facilitate their New York City courses. To my delight, the classes were taught without slides. Instead of a performative song and dance in a darkly-lit room with a slideshow projected on a wall, Webcredible teaches its courses seminar-style. Just like when I was in graduate school. I learned a lot in graduate school. While there is a projector for referencing examples when necessary, at Webcredible, learning happens as a conversation, with paper, pens, and laptops mostly closed. And just like the talks I saw recently, I find this style of teaching incredibly refreshing. I used to teach and learn this way and am starting to do so more and more, which is why I am looking forward to teaching for Webcredible this spring and summer in New York City. When learning happens as a conversation, students get to participate more. When students participate, they retain more of what they learn. In the process, speaking from experience, the instructor also learns a lot from students. And so the cycle goes. Seminar-style teaching rather than one-way lecturing benefits both parties. It might not be better or worse than lecture-style or the highly orchestrated PowerPoint style, it's just different. And difference is refreshing. When many of us stare at screens all day long, taking a break to learn something new off-screen can be a delight.

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