DEATH TO POWERPOINT COURSES! 15 Tips for Smarter Online Presentations

Does anyone ever stay awake when you are using PowerPoint or KeyNote as the basis for your classes?

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Why do so many people use PowerPoint or Keynote for online classes?

I don’t know. I’ve watched a dozen or more online courses in the last 2 months, and except for the big players—Coursera, HarvardX, The Great Courses, Udemy, and the like—most use some form of text slides with a Voice Over (“VO”).

It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s boring.

There are two important questions here:

  1. If you’re going to use slides and VO, how do you make it engaging?
  2. If you use video, what do you need to know?

Make Slide-Based Courses More Engaging

Okay, I’ll admit that slides can be amazing tools for presentations, if used properly. And I really don’t have anything against PowerPoint or any other slide program. Really. If used well, they’re terrific.

But few people use them well, especially in online courses.

The problem with most slideshow courses is that the instructors read the slides to the students. Most students can read silently faster than you can aloud, so you end up with dead space.

Then the student loses interest, or starts multi-tasking while they’re waiting for the instructor. Or, if there’s no VO, they zip ahead. But they’re still not engaged. They’re speed reading, not thinking.

If you must use slides as the basis for your course, try these 5 tips:

  1. Voice record your slides and then delete all but the most critical key words. This works several ways.
    1. Recording, rather than writing, your notes forces you to use spoken rather than written language, so you’re already ahead of the game.
    2. Second, as you practice (aloud, please!), you will naturally become more aware of the primary points. This will make it easier to eliminate the supporting points.
    3. Third, your students will see and focus on the ideas that are absolutely the most important to remember.
  2. Ask questions intermittently and pause a beat to give your students a chance to respond, even if only in their heads. This ups the level of interactivity and keeps them engaged.
  3. Tell us a story! Nothing will engage your audiences emotionally so well as a relevant, well-told story. Since memory works by association, stories will heat up the effectiveness of your course.
  4. Modulate your voice in volume, tone, and pace to keep your students awake and paying attention. It will also help cue them that the point is especially important—or that it’s less important.
  5. Limit each segment of the course to no more than 15-20 minutes—or go even shorter. Research shows that the ideal length for a slideshow presentation is only 6 minutes.

What about Video?

Most online teachers aren’t presenting in video because it takes more time and money.

Or because they don’t know how to talk to a camera.

Or because it’s easier to whip up a bunch of slides and read them than it is to write a script.

Plus, it’s a terrifying prospect if you haven’t done one already!

But it’s worth the time and money to include some video in your courses. Why?

Because seeing the teacher helps students connect to the material. Pages of notes do not thrill anyone.

Because talking to the student, even if you can’t see him or her, reinvigorates your material. Many people forget that they are teaching when they just run through a set of premade slides.

Because you stay more engaged, and so the student does too. It’s a lot easier to show your passion for your subject. A teacher who’s gaga over their subject material is much more likely to win a student’s interest—even students who don’t care about the topic.

How Can You Get Started Making Video Courses? Ten Tips

  1. Ease into video by interspersing the slide sections with the “live” presentations.
  2. Identify the most difficult topics in your material for students to understand.
    • If there are usually a lot of questions or confusion, that’s a critical section to put your face in front of.
  3. Look for sections where you could demonstrate something, using physical objects.
    • For instance, in one course I crafted with a math teacher, he demonstrated a geometric concept using quilt pieces. It was brilliant, and it was memorable.
  4. Always start and end your course with video.
    • It humanizes you as a teacher.
    • It connects you to your students.
    • Students will decide to keep watching based on the opening.
    • And they will decide how to review you based on their last experience with you.
    • So kick-ass introductions and conclusions are vital, and that means getting your face in front of them.
    • Think of yourself as a gymnast. You’ve got to stick the landing.
  5. Put some video somewhere around the midway point.
    • Attention falls off the longer you lecture, and this will help reactivate focus.
    • Use the video to recap, propose challenging questions, or to engage in some way that requires the student to interact.
  6. Don’t be a talking head.
    • Get someone else to help film you, and frame it so that you can use your hands to reinforce and emphasize points.
  7. Build up to using video every time you introduce a major point.
    • It will help emphasize the importance of the point and help students retain it.
  8. To start, keep the video portions short.
    • Depending on how complex the material is, 1-2 minutes can serve you well—it’s not an intimidating amount for you to record, but it will flavor the course like adding salt and pepper to your eggs. (However, if you’re ready to go longer, do so by all means!)
  9. Set up transitions to take you in and out of your video and slide show sections. By transitions, I mean verbal cues, as well as visual cues.
    • For example, “Let’s take a look at a graph showing the exact rates of…”
    • Or, “That brings us to the next major point” (and back to you).
    • These aren’t dazzling, but you get the point.
  10. Practice ahead of time. Practice aloud. Practice with your props. Practice like a lunatic.
    • Practice with your script first, and then with only cue cards.
    • Look at the camera!
    • Time your practices, so you can adjust your script as needed.
    • DON’T MEMORIZE THE SCRIPT! It’ll kill your delivery, trust me.
    • Great teachers can make any subject exciting–and so can you!

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Tune in next week for Issue #2 of my blog: Everything You Need to Know to Craft Outstanding Online Courses.

We’ll take a look at how to write a 2-column script and why that will help you craft online courses—even if you are sticking with slideshows for now!

Please send us your questions for future posts, and please post your comments. Thanks for joining us!

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About Marcy McDonald

Online Course Producer


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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