Posted by: Navy Teacher | April 13, 2012

Death by PowerPoint: Is it avoidable?

Did you realize that there is actually a book with the title “Death by PowerPoint” available for your purchase through Amazon?  I didn’t until about two minutes prior to starting this post.  Actually, there are quite a few books, blogs, articles, tweets, videos, and other forms of opinions on the subject of PowerPoint presentations.

For some people, PowerPoint is a tremendous tool that can be used to creatively engage your audience.  For other people, it is a soul-sucking tool similar to the Dementors of Harry Potter fame.  Well, who is right and who is wrong?  Or better yet, does the truth lie somewhere in the middle?

I’ve been on the receiving end of several PowerPoint presentations that were of the soul-sucking variety.  You know what I’m talking about; it is the presentation that incorporates 135 slides and by slide 70 you are hoping for a power outage or perhaps a natural disaster to end your miserable experience?  OK, perhaps that is extreme but you get the point.  I’ve had that awesome experience both in the classroom and also on the professional level.

For now, let’s focus on the classroom.  Is the syndrome called “Death by PowerPoint” avoidable?  The answer to that question is simple – Yes.  Perhaps the better question is:  How can a teacher avoid the pitfalls of a horrible PowerPoint presentation that elicits little response from the students?  Well, there are several ways to do that yet I believe the most important aspect is to create a simple presentation that is engaging for the students.  The rule of 10 (slides maximum), 20 (minutes total), 30 (point font minimum) is a good start yet it really doesn’t apply to all presentations.

I believe a great way to encourage student engagement is through animation.  I’m not talking about a presentation that explodes, twirls, or appears out of nowhere.  Personally, I get frustrated by those tricks.  I’m talking about animation that incorporates decision-making action buttons for example. A great example I’ve experienced involves the use of a Jeopardy format  to conduct a unit review.  Students could work individually or as teams.  The winner(s) might earn extra credit on their unit test.   There is a free format that you can download from the Microsoft website.  Another important consideration is the fact that the teacher must be prepared for the lesson.  It’s OK if the teacher doesn’t have everything memorized.  Having note cards is much better than having every, single word written on the PowerPoint slide.  The goal is to engage the students which can be difficult if they are too busy reading and writing down information that is on the slide.

Ultimately, creating a PowerPoint presentation that engages the students through activities makes it a tremendous tool for use in the classroom.  Unfortunately, there are too many teachers out there that use PowerPoint as a note-taking means of sharing information with the students.

I’m interested in receiving opinions on this subject.  Please share some of your ideas on how to best engage students through PowerPoint.




  1. When used as a *teaching tool, we need to keep in mind (1) that the tool doesn’t teach (2) students don’t learn by passively and sitting and listening for extended periods of time. The other part of this is that presentation tools are really great for displaying and projecting VISUAL media. Projecting text is not something that appeals highly to the senses. Here are some findings by John Medina, the author of Brain Rules, that are quite fitting in this category. You might find it interesting to browse the first three sub-categories here:

    Finally, the default stand-and-deliver use of presentation tools like PowerPower can be easily co-oped if we allow and encourage kids to build interesting things that can be shared, capitalizing on some of the interactive functionality that we are exploring and keeping things highly visual. For, we DO know that we all learn best through constructing knowledge (and things) and sharing them (teaching) with others…

    It’s far too easy just to sit back and ignore all of this and … talk, isn’t it.

  2. Great point about the fact that the ‘tool doesn’t teach.’ It’s not much different than a carpenter who decides to use a very nice table saw over a hand saw to cut the wood for a project. Just because he/she is using a table saw doesn’t guarantee that the finished product will be better. Ultimately, it is how effectively the carpenter uses his/her tools that will determine the end result of the project.

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