Video Tutorial: Adding Narration to PowerPoint Presentations

This is one questions I hear most frequently, so I figured I should address it on my blog so there will be a permanent home for the instructions.   Before you decide to record narrations for all of your PowerPoint presentations and call it an online course, please understand that the creation of materials for an online course involves much more than simply recording narration on a PowerPoint.   So before you watch the video, check out these two dire warnings…

CAVEAT #1:  In many cases, the PowerPoint presentation is not the best vehicle for delivering online course material because it typically lacks any opportunity for student engagement and interaction.  However, a PowerPoint presentation with audio narration does have its value, and a presentation with narration is far better than a presentation without narration.  

CAVEAT #2:  If you are using PowerPoint presentations with narration, you must also, at minimum, make a transcript of the narration available for students who are hearing impaired.

INND13: Day 2 – PowerPoint CPR

This is a topic I’ve covered extensively in my own presentations, in my work with faculty, in the design of my online courses, and even here Rodney’s Corner. But it’s also something I feel compelled to attend because I do work with so many PowerPoint presentations that could use a little bit of CPR and I’m always on the lookout for new ways to improve PowerPoint presentations.

Led by Donn King (no, not that Don King), the presentation kicked off with Don McMillan’s modern-day classic Life After Death by PowerPoint.

On the average, people speak at 150 words per minute while most people read at 300 words per minute. Based on cognitive load theory, by putting all your text on the slides, you’re overloading your audience and they won’t retain nearly as much information.

Cognitive Load Theory
Dr. John Sweller and some folks from Australia came up with the theory in the 1950’s. He’s also the guy who says PowerPoint use has been a disaster and should be ditched.

According to CLT we receive information on two channels and if either is overloaded, the Message is not received and the data is lost.

Data is useless without context.

Information must be collated and contextualized. Speaking out loud is not just cheap information transfer, it’s about making impressions. Making the right impression increases retention. Sideshows are not meant to replace the presentation, but to enhance it. Using visuals in the presentation engages both sides of the brain. Words on a slide cause the audience to either listen to the speaker or to read the text of the slide.

Communication is about the transfer of emotion. – Seth Godin

Print is good for detail, but “out loud” is good for inspiration. Slideware is “out loud”. Creating a “slideument” does not equal out loud. If you want your audience to read, give them a handout, don’t put it on the screen.

Speaking isn’t about getting the words right; it’s about giving the words impact.

Suggestions for Improving PowerPoint Presentations

Suggestion #1 – No more than six words to a slide. Ever. Period.
Suggestion #2 – Use animations to deliver multiple bullet points so they come up one at a time. Or use a separate slide for each point.
Suggestion #3 – Use images. Not cheesy ones.
Suggestion #4 – Leave out extraneous material. Images which don’t support the text distract the learner.
Suggestion #5 – No fancy transitions or animations. If you use them, keep,them consistent.
Suggestion #6 – Use more slides and fewer bullets
Suggestion #7 – If you must have bullet points, use subtle animations to control attention flow.
Suggestion #8 – No more than 2 lines of text.
Suggestion #9 – Do not underline for emphasis. Use italic, bold or color for emphasis.
Suggestion #10 – Use an easy to read font. Typically use Sans Serif fonts
Suggestion #11 – Use real handouts or link to web pages rather than print your slides.

PowerPoint Plus – Part Three: Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should (The Value (or lack thereof) of Animation)

This is actually going to be a short and simple one, and while these statements don’t apply 100% of the time, they certainly do apply MOST of the time.

Animations = Bad 

Distractions, distractions, distractions.  The elementary school I attended was in the center of my small rural NC hometown.  As such, the schoolyard abutted several homes.  On most days, these homes merely served as scenery of the world outside the fenced-in schoolyard. But when I was in second grade, the backyard of one of these houses was home to a glorious a whirligig.  Coated with a shiny enamel gloss paint which glistened in the afternoon sunlight, the wondrous whirligig with its spinning gadgets and sparkles of light proved to be far more interesting and engaging than the day-to-day lessons of second grade.  So many hours of second grade were spent gazing out the window at this mystifying whirligig.  It was the ultimate distraction, and once I left second grade, I thought I’d never be so beautifully distracted again…

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Farm - Lucama, NC Vollis Simpson Whirligig Farm – Lucama, NC by the1secondfilm, on Flickr

Then (many years later) I saw my first PowerPoint presentation.  Oh! How fantastic!  The words spinning and twirling across the screen!  The bullet points gliding in from the left and right, slide titles bouncing around and leaping into place.  It was a glorious ballet of text!  I was mesmerized and smitten with this spectacular tool!!!  It was second grade all over again!

I can’t recall the point of the presentation.  I can’t even recall where or why I first saw it.  All I remember is that I was impressed.  But that was 1995.  I still had monochrome monitors and 5.25″ floppy drives on some of my workstations, and the concept of animation was relatively new and exciting.  Fast forward sixteen years to the dawn of 2012 and I’ve seen more PowerPoint presentations with more bullet points and cascading dancing spinning twirling whirling zipping skipping tripping text than I care to count.  At this point, the animations no longer engage or entice, they distract.  So, unless you’ve got some really cool animation tricks up your sleeve, keep the animations to a minimum.  Instead of using them to introduce every line of text, use them sparingly and only to emphasize key points of your presentation.

Transitions = Good

While I demonize the animation, I praise the transition.  Why?

CONSISTENT use of transitions helps your the audience to recognize that you are moving from one idea to the next.  The operative word here is consistent.  The use of haphazard transitions will confuse your audience more than it will help them, but if you settle on a subtle transition style to use consistently throughout your presentation, you’ll help your audience to better recognize the shift between ideas.

This is particularly important if your slides all look basically the same.  If you’re showing a slide with a title and 4 bullet points and then move to another slide with a title and 4 bullet points without using a transition, your audience might not even realize you’ve switched slides.  However, a subtle, consistent transition will clearly state that a shift is occurring and prepare your audience for the next idea.

…and since I promised a short and simple post this time, I’ll leave it at that.

As always, any comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.


PowerPoint Plus – Part Two: Yes, You DO Need To Draw Me a Picture.

PowerPoint is a visual tool.  Using it to project copious amounts of text onto a wall is not an effective use of the tool.

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, every word that appears on a PowerPoint slide should serve a specific purpose.  If the text does not directly address the point, it should be omitted.  As you create your presentation, look for ways to condense the text and find more economical ways of making your point. Remember.  You are the presentation, PowerPoint is the tool.

The Rule of Six aka The 1-6-6 Rule aka The 6-6-6 Rule

If you’ve done any research on designing PowerPoint presentations, you’ve probably encountered the infamous “Rule of Six” or one of its countless variations.  This “rule”, which has been floating around for at least a decade, suggests that presentations should be created with one primary idea per slide, no more than six bullet points per slide, no more than six words per bullet point, and no more than six all-text slides in a row. On the surface, these don’t seem to be bad suggestions, but they work better in theory than they do in practice.

Think about it.  Under this “rule”, it’s recommended that your presentation contain thirty-six consecutive bullet points, so long as each bullet point contains no more than six words and the bullet points are spaced out equally over six separate slides.  HOGWASH!  POPPYCOCK!  BALDERDASH!  It is never acceptable to present thirty-six bullet points in a row.

So what are you supposed to do???  

Remember.  You’re the expert.  Your presentation is on a topic in which you are well-versed.  Your audience is there to hear what you have to say, not read a bunch of bullet points.  Design your presentation so that it is an aid, not an impediment.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Bullet Points

This is where the fun begins.  If you’re not supposed to use tons of text, what are you to do?  Images. Images. Images.  It can be challenging to find images which convey your ideas, but well-selected images will serve you (and more importantly, your audience) far better than a screen full of bullet points ever could.

If you’re presenting on a progression of events in chronological order (either in the form of a timeline or a step-by-step instruction), it’s pretty simple to use images to tell your story.  It’s a little more difficult to find images to express complex concepts, and sometimes it simply can’t be done.  But, more often than not, there is an image that can help get your point across.  If nothing else, the use of an image as the slide background can help set the mood for the concept you’re introducing and provide you with a fresh canvas on which to present your ideas. (More on that later)

When possible, use images that you have created, either in the form of photographs you’ve taken or images you’ve designed a graphics editing program.  But if you need to get images from another source, there are plenty of resources online.  Try to avoid clip art and animated GIF’s.  Such images, like the Comic Sans font, may seem cute at first, but your audience will find it hard to take you seriously.  

If you have access to an image repository such as Shutterstock or Getty Images, then you’ve already got a wealth of materials at your disposal.  However, if you don’t have access to such a repository and don’t have the budget to purchase images, fear not!  There are many other excellent resources for images.  In 2009, the website Cats Who Code published a list of 50 sites to find free stock images that can be incredibly helpful.

Personally, my first stop for images is Flickr Creative Commons which contains images released for use under the Creative Commons license.  Check out this post for a step-by-step walkthrough of how to locate and download Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr.

Make It Cool!

Regardless of where you find them, images are a critical component of any great PowerPoint presentation.  If you’ve ever created a PowerPoint presentation, you’ve undoubtedly inserted an image into the slideshow, so I won’t bore you with the step-by-step on how to do that.  What I do want to mention, however, is that PowerPoint 2010 contains a wealth of image manipulation tools which allow you to apply some impressive effects to your graphics without having to use a complex high-end image editor.

To apply effects, insert an image into your presentation, click on the image, then go to the “Picture Tools | Format” tab in the ribbon.  In the Adjust section, click on the “Artistic Effects” dropdown to preview some of the effects available.  Once you’ve selected an artistic effect, click on the “Color” dropdown to enhance or modify the color of the image, or click on the “Corrections” dropdown to change the brightness or contrast of the image.

Be prepared to spend some time with this, not because it’s difficult, but because you’ll have so much fun playing with the different options that it’ll be hard to decide which enhancements you want to use. For the example below, I used the “Paint Strokes” artistic effect, applied 300% Saturation, then decreased the brightness and increased the contrast by 20%, all with a few clicks of the mouse.

Before After

This is a significant improvement over the original, but what if you I want to take it even further?  I like the idea of using this image on a slide, but I’d much instead of putting an image on the slide, I want the image to BE the slide!

It’s actually pretty simple.  To use an image as the slide background, RIGHT CLICK on the slide and select  “Format Background”. In the window that appears, click on the “File” button, select the image you want to use as your background, then close the Format Background window.

Then, it’s just a matter of making a couple of minor adjustments… You’ll need to suppress any background graphics on the slide. To do this, go to the Design tab, and make sure the Hide Background Graphics checkbox is selected. Then, adjust the font face, size, and color for any text on the slide and you’re ready to go!

Before After

And that does it!  The key here is to create or locate high quality images for your presentation and once you’ve added the images to your presentation, give yourself the liberty to explore and experiment with the multitude of options that are available to you.   Exceptional PowerPoint presentations don’t just happen.  They’re are envisioned, designed, constructed, and reconstructed.

I certainly hope you got something out of this which you might find helpful, and as always, any comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.


PowerPoint Plus – Part One: Themes and Things

Let’s start out with a simple one, shall we?  You may know that PowerPoint comes with lots of preconfigured themes, but did you know that you can customize the themes to better suit your personality and purpose? This post discusses how to select a PowerPoint theme and how to customize the colors and fonts of the selected theme.

Unless you’re presenting to an gathering of infants or aliens, the odds are that your audience members will have seen PowerPoint presentations in the past, so getting flashy with the animations and graphics won’t impress many people.  But that doesn’t mean that you want your presentation to consist of merely a white screen with black Arial font.  On the contrary, you’ll want your presentation to be unique.  This is where themes come into play.

When creating a PowerPoint presentation, the first thing you’ll want to do is select a theme.  Under the Design tab in PowerPoint 2010, there is a  wide variety of pre-configured themes available.  If none of the themes quite suit your needs, you can always visit Microsoft’s website and find a new theme.

Once you’ve selected a theme to work from, you can customize the color scheme by clicking on the “Colors” drop-down which can be found just to the right of the row of themes.

As you can see in the image on the right, there are plenty of preconfigured color schemes which can be applied to your presentation.  To apply a color scheme, just click on the color scheme you want to use and you’re done!

But if none of the pre-configured color schemes meet your needs, you can customize the color scheme by clicking on the “Create New Theme Colors…” link at the bottom of the “Colors” dropdown.

This will load the Create Theme screen where you can customize the colors for your theme.  This will probably involve a bit of trial and error, but once you’ve got your custom colors ready, you can re-use them in future PowerPoint presentations.

A word of caution: Creating your own color scheme can be tricky. Although selecting the colors is simple, it’s critical that you try to use color schemes which won’t distract your audience or which won’t be clearly visible to color blind individuals.

If you want to explore color theory further, there are a wealth of websites devoted to the topic. For a quick introduction to color theory, check out this article from There are also a lot of websites which will help you design color schemes using the color wheel.  A couple of the sites I use to assist with the development of color schemes are colorsontheweb and colorschemedesigner.

Selecting Fonts

In addition to creating a custom color palette, PowerPoint also allows for the creation of font themes. While not everyone will want use a custom font theme, they can come in very handy and can add a personal touch to a PowerPoint presentation.  To create a custom font theme, click on the “Fonts” dropdown in the “Design” tab (just beneath the Colors dropbown).  There only two customizable elements (Heading Font and Body Font) each of which are pretty self-explanatory.

The key here is to use fonts which are easy to read and won’t distract the audience. The only “rule” is to NEVER use Comic Sans or other “handwritten” fonts as the heading or body fonts. These fonts may appear cute at first, but they quickly become tiresome and look horribly unprofessional.  For more information on typography and fonts check out this list of  8 Essential Web Typography Resources from Mashable.

I certainly hope I’ve enlightened you a little with this post, and next time I’ll discuss using images in PowerPoint.  When to use them, where to find them, and how they should be added and cited.

As always, any comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.


PowerPoint Plus: Wise Design and Added Value

Welcome to the first post in a series of articles on PowerPoint presentation design strategies.  I was going to call this series “PowerPointers” but that name brings to mind images of a wild gang of needlepoint enthusiasts leaning against lampposts wearing meticulously embroidered leather jackets, twirling needlepoint frames around their fingers as they protect their turf… not exactly my target audience.  Perhaps a more brilliant title for this series will arise as I move forward.  We shall see.  But as this is not a series of articles on the coining of clever monikers, I do hope that you will forgive the lack of creativity in the heading…

So what’s the point??

This series will introduce methods I’ve used to make exciting, engaging PowerPoint presentations. I’ll be using PowerPoint 2010 for these posts, and for advanced PowerPoint creation, I do recommend using PowerPoint 2010 over PowerPoint 2007.  I’ve found that PPT 2010 contains several new functions which are indispensable.   This series isn’t about jazzing up your PowerPoint presentation with frivolous bells and whistles to your PowerPoint presentation.  It’s about using WISE DESIGN and ADDING VALUE.  While bells, whistles, animations, LOLcats, and video clips can be amusing, they are useless if they don’t add some sort of value to the presentation.

Design Wisely

Wise design basically means developing and implementing an economic design strategy.  In a wisely designed presentation, all elements serve a purpose.  Every word and image is in place for a reason.  Unnecessary information, images, and animations should be stripped away, leaving the presentation with only what NEEDS to be there.

But what if I NEED all those words on the slide?  The simple fact is, you don’t NEED them.  If you’re presenting in front of a live audience, your discussion will expand upon the information covered on the slides as you present.  If the slides are overloaded with text, images, and/or animations, the audience will pay more attention to what’s on the screen than to what’s being said, practically eliminating the need for a speaker!    If you’re presenting online or recording a voice-over narration, keeping your audience tuned in to the sound of your voice is even more difficult, and if your PowerPoint slides are too busy, the audience will tune you out as they read your slides.

But what if I want to hand out printed copies of my presentation?  Won’t they need all that text?  If you’d like to provide handouts of your presentation, use the Notes feature of PowerPoint to add all the text you had originally intended to include on your slides and print out the Notes pages so that your audience can walk away with any extra information you may have wanted to provide that wasn’t in the actual slides.   Better yet,  if you’re providing handouts,  don’t give them a copy of the PowerPoint at all!  Give them a single-page handout that ADDS VALUE but doesn’t reproduce the entire presentation.  Typically, there is no legitimate need to provide a slide-by-slide hard copy of your presentation.  You can always make your presentation available on the web so that interested parties may download and review it on their own.

One last thing about hard copies.  If you are providing them, try not to distribute them until AFTER you’ve completed your presentation.  Handouts can be a distraction, and you want your audience to be focused on YOU, not on the papers in their hands.

Adding Value

In order to design better PowerPoint presentations, we must first understand the role of PowerPoint.  Your performance as a presenter/teacher/facilitator should be the primary focus of the audience.  The audience should be engaged, excited, and eager to learn about your topic.  The PowerPoint presentation should not be your presentation, it should add value to your presentation.  Quite often, presenters will use PowerPoint as a crutch rather than a tool and instead of truly presenting on the topic, the presenter merely reads to the audience.  If people are paying to take a class or attend a seminar, they typically want something more exciting than a presenter reading slides.

The remaining posts in this series will discuss ways in which you can add value to your PowerPoint presentation, but perpetually reinforce the fact that the presentation itself should be clean and well-designed from the outset.

If you’re reading this and would like to contribute any ideas or have any requests for future PowerPoint articles, let me know…

As always, any comments, questions, concerns or (gentle) criticisms are welcome.