We Need Better Presentations

Over the past few weeks while visiting different schools I have observed while walking down hallways, peeking in on meetings, or just end up watching presentation being delivered by educators that….well….are really bad.

By Tomwsulcer CC-BY-SA-3.0

I’m not talking about classroom teachers standing and giving presentations to students, I’m talking about counselors explaining the PSAT results to students, administrators presenting to staff, staff presenting to staff and presentations to parents. We’re talking presentation that have 5+ bullet points per page, text somewhere around 16 size font, and just an overall presentation that would put the most passionate person to sleep.

I look at all these presentations and then look at the type of presentations our students create for the classroom and projects and see a direct correlation….they’re bad!

The idea of giving a presentation has changed over the years, thanks in part to books like Presentation Zen (a must read for anyone that does presentations), TED Talks, and even Keynotes by Apple, Google and other companies of late. Presentations that are based both on sound fundamentals of presenting as well as telling an engaging story.

See: Lecture as content delivery is dead

Now I understand that there isn’t anyway to make the PSAT sexy. That there is information that counselors need to give to students. I get it…but that doesn’t mean that you don’t put in the time to make the presentation something that they will actually remember.

Brain Fact:

We remember 65% more when we attach an image to information (Rule #10)

Whether that is a graph, a chart, or an memorable image. Images are the most important part of the information you should put on a slide.


Brain Fact:

We can’t listen and read at the same time (Rule #4)

Try it….try reading a book and watching your favorite movie at the same time. You either are missing the movie or you’re not reading the book. We know this…..yet we put lots of words on a slide for people to read and then talk over them or about them while people are trying to read. You are making your audience choose to either read the slide or listen to you. Worse yet is having people take notes copy word for word what is on the slide. What’s the point of this? If you want people to have the information give it to them in a handout. Unless you are assessing the skill of copying there is no reason anyone should have to copy information from a slide onto their own piece of paper. Again we can’t write and listen at the same time, so you are making your audience choose between one or the other.


Yes…you can’t make a talk about the PSAT sexy…but you can make it memorable. You can make it more likely that students will remember the information by using what we know to be brain based-research around giving presentations.

presentation-224108_640I give a lot of presentations….and not that I think they are amazing presentations, but what they are is accessible to people. They take these facts above and apply them to a presentation that allows people to access the information, gives them space to think, and doesn’t make them choose between listening to me or reading the screen. In fact….I don’t give them an option….you’re going to listen to me because the only thing on the screen is an image and a word.

Why do we not see better presentations? Because good presentations that take these brain facts into consideration take time….take a lot of time and presenters are just not willing to put in the time to make great presentations. They get rushed, they don’t know how, or have not been taught, or have not taught themselves, and then they end up just like our students…rushed and through bullet points on a slide for your own sake and not the sake of your audience.

We then end up sitting through horrible…yes horrible presentations done by students. Students who have sat through horrible presentations and know no different so they copy what they have seen. Bullet point heavy slides that do not engage the audience in anyway whatsoever.


Presentation Tips:

  • Take every bullet point and put it on its own slide. If it’s that important of information for it to be on a slide then it should get its own slide.

  • Images, Images, Images – Find big beautiful images that help frame the point. Not some little image off to the side…but an image that fills the whole screen…that is the point, that makes the brain see the connection between the image and the content.

  • Handouts are your friends – whether they are digital or paper based doesn’t matter. Give people the information, the links before your presentation. Allow them time to look through it, get to know it, and then they will pay attention when you’re actually talking.

  • A presentation is about the presenter not the slide deck. You the presenter are the focus of the presentation not the slides. You want people to listen to what you say, you are important…the most important part of the presentation. Get words off your slides and make people pay attention to you. Nervous? Yeah…..it’s hard work giving good presentations. It’s nerve racking to know that people are actually paying attention to you and not to the 50 words on the slide behind you.

  • Expect more from our students. We need to do better for them. We do not need another generation growing up believing that a presentation is about bullet points. We can do better, we must do better. We can only expect our students to give good presentations when we ourselves are willing to take the time to give good presentations every time we have to. They are watching us….and we can do better.