In Which I Comment on a Session I Did Not Attend (#lilly10)

Okay, one more post on the 30th annual Lilly Conference on College Teaching at Miami University in Ohio back in November. I just couldn’t resist this one…

Top 10 Tips to Create Smash-the-Mold PowerPoints

Ron Berk, The Johns Hopkins University

You might have gathered from my past blog posts that I’m into good presentation design. So it’s not surprising that I wanted to attend Ron Berk‘s session at the Lilly Conference on using PowerPoint effectively. I was, however, far from the only one who wanted to attend that session. All the seats were filled, there were a dozen people standing in the back, and another dozen sitting on the floor. Since I failed to heed organizer Milt Cox’s advice to get to sessions early to ensure a seat, I ended up missing Ron’s session.

I did, however, snag one of his handouts. The handout was a printed copy of Ron’s slides. Ron’s slides don’t stand on their own, of course. You really need Ron in front of you presenting with the slides for the slides to work. (Presentation slides really shouldn’t stand on their own. They should complement the presenter and his or her delivery. If I can get everything there is to get from your presentation by reading your slides, then why present? Why not just hand out copies of your slides?)

This means, however, that I only have the piece of Ron’s story told by his slides. That’s not going to stop me from blogging about his session, however! I now present my thoughts on Ron Berk’s “Top 10 Tips to Create Smash-the-Mold Presentations”… as told by his handout.

10. Color – Ron describes the moods and emotions evoked by background and font colors on slides, and recommends using color changes to highlight changes in content or to show emphasis. As for me, I find it safe to stick with white fonts on black backgrounds for everything. You can’t beat that combo for contrast, and it works well even if you have a weak projector bulb.

9. Transitions – Here’s what Ron’s handout has to say about transitions: “9. Transitions.” That’s it. That’s what I get for relying on a session handout… I avoid transitions myself. They tend to distract without conveying meaning.

8. Letter & Word Movement – Ron writes, “Custom animation is the REEEAAL PowerPoint defibrillator.” I’ve certainly seen some PowerPoint slides that needed to be resuscitated, but I’d use animations only when they help you tell your story. One exception: If you have to use more than one line of text on your slide (which is, sadly, sometimes unavoidable), have each line come in using one of the simpler animations, like “Appear.” That way your audience won’t be reading ahead. (Some argue that once a new line of text appears, the previous line should disappear. Why? Because you can’t date two people at once, of course.)

7. Simple Visuals – On his handout, Ron provides the very useful question, “What image could be used to make the point of this content clear and memorable?” My answer: “A high-quality photo that fills the entire slide and represents the idea in an engaging and metaphorical way.” Go read Presentation Zen, then try out Compfight to find some nice Creative Commons images. I’ll wait here until you’re back.

6. Complex Visuals – Ron recommends clip art with movement, adding music to images, and creating your own graphics. I’m not crazy about animation or music myself. As for graphics, Edward Tufte says that complex visuals should be distributed on handouts, not displayed with the relatively low-resolution PowerPoint. (He also kills a kitten every time you make a PowerPoint, but that’s another matter.) I’m with Tufte when it comes to data-driven infographics. For complex visuals that don’t involve quantitative data, like concept maps or flow charts, use Prezi so you can zoom in, out, and around your visuals at will.

5. Sound Effects – Ron recommends soda can crinkles, drum rolls, frog croaks, and tire screeches, among other sound effects. With my presentation style, however, I tend to go with a well-timed dramatic pause over a sound effect.

4. Music Clips – Ron provides 12 techniques for using music clips. Numbers 1, 5, and 7 sound good to me. I’m not sure about the rest, but good music selections could make them work.

3. Video Clips – Ron provides 12 techniques here, too. Since everyone is a visual learner, I think they’re all worth using. One caveat: If your clip is longer than 5 minutes, you’d better be a film studies professor. Two-to-three-minute clips work best.

2. Engagement Activities – Engaging students in the classroom? With PowerPoint-based activities? That’s crazy talk.

1. Humor – Ron suggests using still pictures, cartoons, music and video clips, top 10 lists, and other funny things to inject humor in your presentations. I defer to Ron’s expertise in the area of humor in the classroom, with a reminder to be a professor who’s funny, not one who’s professor-funny.

Thanks, Ron, for sharing your ideas at the Lilly Conference! Wish I had been there!

What are your thoughts on Ron’s and my advice on presentations? (And for another perspective, check out my colleague Rhett McDaniel’s new guide on making better PowerPoint presentations.)

Image: “Sudi Smashed!“, Kaushal Karkhanis, Flickr (CC)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *