My thoughts and learning as I prepare training on alternatives to ‘death by Powerpoint’.
By Nicki Berry, PD (Y&H) Digital.
I have to confess that of all the Microsoft Office applications, PowerPoint is probably my least favourite. I used it briefly as a primary school teacher, many years ago, but quickly switched to Smart Notebook and ActivInspire when interactive whiteboards became the norm.
I can’t really pinpoint what it is about PowerPoint that turns me off. It might not be the application itself, but rather the way I’ve seen it used. We went through a phase of every child in a class of 30 doing a presentation about their holidays, complete with flying, whizzing and cheering items on each and every mouse click. Even adult presenters can have a tendency to put too much on each slide, sometimes with poor text/background contrast, and then just read it to the audience, as though we are incapable of reading for ourselves.
So my heart did an inward leap for joy when my boss recently asked me to prepare and present a one and a half hour session on alternatives to PowerPoint for engaging an audience. My audience will be senior managers, who give presentations on a regular basis as part of their work – a potentially tough group to try to downsell PowerPoint!
Anyway, I’m going to give you (and them) a brief glimpse of some alternatives.
I first used Sway, whilst studying for my Master’s with the Open University. We were discussing whether Wikipedia is an acceptable study tool (let’s not get started on that here!) and here is a presentation I made for one of our tutorials.
There are advantages and disadvantages to Sway. The biggest disadvantage, which Microsoft much surely address eventually, is that is cannot be used offline and cannot be exported, so if the Internet goes down, you could well be stuffed! Also, branding is more difficult than it would be with a traditional PowerPoint presentation, though it is possible to adapt colour schemes and fonts used.
The advantages are in some of the features that make it look that little bit more modern than PowerPoint. It can be presented in slide mode, like a traditional presentation, or by scrolling vertically or horizontally. This makes it good to share for ‘after the event’ viewing, as it is easy to find the section you want, quickly. I particularly like the way that images can be stacked, allowing you to click on them and shuffle through, just like a stack of cards. From an accessibility point of view, it is great because you can switch easily to ‘accessibility view’ and it automatically changes the presentation so that visually impaired users can view it through a screen reader more easily.
When presenting to an audience, I think many of us have that worry about whether anyone is actually listening, engaging with us or understanding what we are talking about. This is where some kind of quiz can be handy.
There are various quizzing tools out there but I like Socrative and find it fun and easy to use. You can set up a quiz or survey to engage your audience during a presentation and then get them to interact on their own devices (or you could provide some). It works on PC, laptops, tablets, phones… pretty much anything that is online. You show the question from the front, it sends to their device and then all the answers can be seen, with various options on names, anonymity and so on, on the screen. When working with a group, particularly in a training situation, my favourite is to run the quiz as a race. I generally get a member of the audience to choose what type of character we will race as (unicorn, space ship, etc) but I was writing this in December, so reindeer seemed like the only real choice!
One advantage of Socrative is that only the presenter (teacher) needs to have an account (free option is more than sufficient for my needs) and the audience log in using the presenter’s room code. So you don’t have to try to get your group set up with their own accounts.
I also really like the fact that all the results can be stored, exported and used later on to inform further training. When I’ve used this for tutor training, I can easily see who might need further support and who has really got the hang of what we’re learning, so could support others.
This one can be a little risky, so it’s only for the brave, in my opinion. It is based on the concept of back-channelling. So first of all, what is back-channelling? Well, it has always existed. Back-channelling is the communication strategy that we use to let a speaker know that we are listening and following what they are saying. So it can be as simple as just nodding, smiling or saying, “Aha!”
Using Twitter, the idea is to engage your audience in live discussion and get feedback, questions and comments on your presentation as you go. Depending on the nature of the audience, it either works well or falls flat. If you’ve got a high proportion of those kind of people who like digital multitasking… the ones who are going to be on their phone, checking their Facebook while they should be listening, and can probably pull off a reasonably convincing ‘I’m paying full attention’ face whilst they do… they can be lulled into a middle ground, where they get to do social media and listen and interact, all at the same time. Just decide on a hashtag – #mysession – and ask your audience to post questions, feedback, quotes they liked and what they are learning/will use back in their day job. It’s worth checking that your intended hashtag isn’t already going viral with something else though first.
Why do I say it is risky? Well, not everyone will agree with what you are saying. They might post negative comments or ask questions you don’t know the answers to. You need to give some thought to how you would respond to these. I generally try to be quite open, but set some guidelines at the beginning.
Sometimes the conversation can be all friendly and pleasant like this extract from an online conference I attended in 2016.
Sometimes, though, the feedback and questions can be more challenging, as some TV programmes have found.
Finally, of course, if you’re going to use social media for something that really matters, it’s worth considering that not everybody will have an account. I generally put out a warning in the pre-course blurb, saying that we’ll be using Twitter and it would be helpful if they could create an account.