Sunday, June 14, 2009

Three Rules for Great Presentations

Sunday June, 14, 2009 2-5pm
Lee Andrew Hilyer, University of Houston Libraries, author of
Presentations for Librarians: A Complete Guide to Creating Effective, Learner-Centered Presentations

Hilyer started by discussing learning theory. He mentioned that Dr. Richard Mayer, UC Santa Barbara, guru on multimedia learning, derives seven principles and most important is that people learn from words and pictures, not text alone. The human memory system involves multiple parts of the brain. Working memory (formerly know as "short term") has two channels for processing speech and visuals:

  1. Auditory: handles speech and has limited capacity
  2. Visual: Handles images, requires attention before our brains perceive

Bottom line: Our brains process both channels when attending presentations where speakers include both text and images. Text-filled slides that also have images get processed in the visual channel and then go into the auditory, therefore this is the central problem with PowerPoint. This cognitive overload doesn't lead to the best learning.

What is Learning? Knowledge is stored as networks of concepts, or schemas. Hilyer uses dogs as an example -- "pug" is a breed, its features, emotional aspects, whether they are cute or ugly, each represents a different schema.

Three Simple Rules for Presentations

  1. Say the words, present your evidence
  2. Show the pictures
  3. Text is for take-away

Aside: Hilyer, of course, uses images relevant to his points, as I blogger I have limited time to snip and include them, so check out his blog, which may have the visuals to make this point.

When developing presentations, don't jump right to PowerPoint, work in a notebook or word processor. PPT forces presenters to go directly to chunked information and you may miss the most important points. He also recommends presenters consider his three main points and to keep in mind that learning is individual, each person will learn differently depending on existing knowledge and schemas they've built. Give homework as learning often occurs elsewhere, not necessarily during a presentation.

Another interesting tip: People perceive from left to right, he suggests that speakers should stand on the left of the slides (from the audience point of view).

Assertion Evidence Slide Theory by Micheal Alley
Learn more about Alley's research by reading his book The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2003).

See also Alley, Michael, and Kathryn A. Neeley, "Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides: A Case for Sentence Headlines and Visual Evidence," Technical Communication, vol. 52, no. 4 (November 2005), pp. 417-426 and Alley's "Rethinking the Design of Presentation" (pdf).

Presenters using this approach make one point per slide with limited text and use a relevant graphic to reinforce the point. Hilyer suggests converting at least a few of your slides using this approach. Retention increases 55% if you include pictures in addition to words, this is known as "picture superiority effect." Use high quality and relevant images. Printout a few blank 3 PPT slide handouts and use to create your own storyboard, boxes for sketching image that matches your text.

Resources for Images

If you cannot find a relevant image, don't include one. You could possibly create an image yourself or use a flipchart to sketch a graphic to make your point. He also suggests using the "B" keyboard key while using PowerPoint to toggle screen to go blank, then step to center of screen to make your verbal point. Another librarian mentioned she puts "this slide was made intentionally blank." Sometimes using an printed handout of an article or other instructional materials and lead attendees through sections of text you wish to highlight or focus on. Wait 25 seconds after asking if there are any questions before moving on.

Hilyer also recommends the following books:
Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds
Beyond Bulletpoints by Flip Atkinson
slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations by Nancy Duarte
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott Mccloud

See also:
Multimedia Learning by Richard E Mayer
The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning by Richard E Mayer

Handouts or no handouts? His last point, text for takeaway, means that the audience should be taking the textual information with them for later use or learning. However, one librarian pointed out that her students don't take the handouts. As an alternative a few librarians mentioned they work with faculty to post online handouts, libguides or other materials electronically to the course site. Hilyer suggested the handouts need to have a value-add and relevance. Using screen shots or even creating virtual demonstration using Pointer, Jing, TechSmith SnagIt, etc. to highlight sections of a web page or features of a database may help add value to these documents.

Materials for the workshop published on his Presentations4Librarians blog (password: threeRules)

Contact Lee Andrew Hilyer at

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