Are you someone who uses your PowerPoint slides as your handout, or even your speaking notes? I was that person for many years.

Brenda’s Experience with PowerPoint Presentations

Until about five years ago, I was a lawyer who was sure I was doing the right thing. I created PowerPoint decks that could double as my handout and even my speaking notes. I thought this was perfect as I only had to prepare one document for multiple purposes. The problem is that those purposes conflict.

I changed the way I used PowerPoint about five years ago. At that time, I learned that if your PowerPoint can be your handout, your audience is unlikely to remember your key points. Many of my, and my colleagues slide decks, had significant text on each slide. Armed with this new knowledge and new insights, I fixed my presentations and began to help my professional colleagues develop PowerPoint decks that supported them as speakers not replaced them. As a result, our new presentations got far more interaction with our audiences who actually remembered our key messages, and we received compliments about how our presentations had improved.

Since this change had such great results, I started my own business to help professionals learn this approach to PowerPoint. PowerPoint is the first “P” in my SPP Method for Memorable Presentations.

Don’t Use PowerPoint as Handout

So you already know what I did wrong in my early PowerPoints. I put enough text on the screen that my PowerPoint could easily be the handout. If your audience can understand your presentation solely from your PowerPoint, you have too much text on the slides that will be behind your shoulder when you speak. Many presenters have PowerPoint slides that contain all their key points. Do you?

Why you shouldn’t use your PowerPoint as your handout

Science shows that the more text you include on your PowerPoint slides, the less people remember.

This comes from work by Richard E. Mayer, a psychology professor from UC Santa Barbara. In his 2001 book, Multimedia Learning, he expanded on previous work done by Professor John Sweller from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Cognitive Load Theory
In 1988, Professor Sweller published an article setting out his cognitive load theory. Sweller argued that instructional design can be used to reduce cognitive load in learners. This is needed because people have a limited amount of working memory at any given time. If you want your audience to remember your key messages, you do not want them using their working memory to decipher what you put before them or otherwise increase their cognitive load. If they do that, they will have will not have sufficient working memory to remember your key messages.

Richard Mayer applied Sweller’s theory to multimedia learning, when there are both visual and auditory inputs for learning. One of Mayer’s 12 principles is the redundancy principle.

Redundancy Principle
This principle says that people learn better from images and spoken information than from images, spoken information, and on-screen text. When on-screen text is presented simultaneously to spoken information, there is redundant material. This duplication of information using different modes of presentation increases the risk of overloading working memory capacity and may have a negative effect on people remembering what you say.

What is the best way to design PowerPoint slides?

So, if having too much text on a slide doesn’t work, how should you design your presentation?

First, each slide should have an image on it that relates to the topic you are discussing.

Second, you need a minimal amount of text on your PowerPoint slides. You should aim for a short title and up to three bullet points with one or two words per bullet point. The words should be signposts for your audience. If you want a handout, add additional text to these bullets for the handout version.

What is the impact of your audience not remembering your key messages?

If your audience doesn’t remember your key messages, they are also unlikely to take the action you would like them to take, whether to follow a new rule, become a client, or purchase what you’re offering.

If you’re not sure on how to create your PowerPoint so that it supports you as a speaker, how to find the best image for each slide, or more generally how to give a memorable presentation, don’t go at it alone. Seek help!

About Brenda

Brenda Benham is a retired lawyer in Vancouver, BC, who worked in private practice and in-house. She has taken training and undertaken research on how to give effective and memorable presentations. Brenda has been a part of a Toastmasters Club for over 15 years. When she helps her clients with their presentations, they say she is easy to work with and provides practical tips to improve anyone’s presentation. Brenda is passionate about sharing what she has learned about how to structure a presentation, use PowerPoint, and manage nerves to have the required presence to give truly Memorable Presentations.

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