Using PowerPoint in class

When I played squash, I remember an instructor saying “consider carefully how you will make an angled shot, then don’t.”  I sometimes feel that way about PowerPoint. 

PowerPoint has its advantages and disadvantages as a teaching tool.  It certainly can keep a lecture organized and it can present visuals and audio well.  It is great for short videos or animations, for showing charts or graphs, for presenting an outline of content. It is flexible and content can be easily modified. It can save a fortune on overhead slide transparencies.

In my mind, for teaching, the primary disadvantage of PowerPoint is darkness.  A dark room signals sleep.  Although not inherent to PowerPoint, another significant drawback is the tendency for presenters to place too much text or too many distractions on a slide. 

There are several good tips on design on the web; here are some of the key ideas.  Follow the links below for further information.

  1. You make the presentation, PowerPoint just makes the slides.  Slides are a supplement to your spoken words.
  2. Keep eye contact with the students. Avoid turning your back on the audience, when you have to look at the slides, read the monitor instead of the main screen.
  3. Use the 6 x 6 rule for text: no more than 6 words per line, no more than 6 lines per slide.  Keep the font as big as possible.
  4. Use dark text on a light background.  Black text on a white background is easy to see in a room even with lights on.  Avoid the temptation to turn off the lights so your PowerPoint “pops” off the screen, unless it’s for a very short time.
  5. Use a sans serif font (e.g., Ariel).
  6. Flashy transitions, busy backgrounds, and moving or irrelevant graphics get old very fast. A consistent transition, with emphasis on the current point you are talking about works well. Graphics should enhance what you are saying and not distract the viewer. Text on plain backgrounds is less difficult to read. 
  7. If you are showing the whole slide at once, give students a chance to read it before you begin speaking. They are going to read it anyway; you might as well wait until they are finished so they are not trying to divide their attention.
  8. If you feel the urge to apologize for something on a slide (because it is small, difficult to read, too detailed, etc.) take it off the slide.  It simply is inconsiderate to the students to have something only the front row can see.
  9. The projector you use in class will make the presentation look different from the computer monitor in your office.
  10. Position blank slides to allow you to talk with no PowerPoint distractions.

A helpful link:


Gagne, R. M., Briggs, L.J. & Wagner, W.W. (1992). Principals of instructional design (4th ed.). Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace.

Using visuals in presentations. Media Services, University of Alabama at Birmington.

Verderber, R. F.  (2000). The challenge of effective speaking (11th ed.). Stamford, CT: Wadsworth