How to make your powerpoints less boring

  1. Don’t use Powerpoint.
  2. If you must use Powerpoint don’t use dot points.
  3. If you must use dot points don’t put them all on one slide.
  4. If you must put them all on one slide – don’t read them verbatim.

Seriously though. Powerpoint slides have been scientifically proven to be better with less information rather than more…

Here’s the test they ran…

Students were randomly assigned to two groups. One group attended a presentation with traditional bullet-point slides (with the occasional diagram) and the second group attended a presentation with what Chris calls “sparse slides”, which contained the same diagrams, but minimized the amount of text, and broke up the information over several different slides. Both presentations were accompanied by the same spoken narrative.

They were tested using multiple choice questions and then short essays – the multiple choice tests showed no major differences between the groups. The essays on the other hand…

“Before marking the short essay answers, Chris worked with two independent people to identify the themes of information in the presentation. They identified around 30 themes by consensus. The short essay answers were then marked by counting how many of those themes the students wrote about.”

Now that you’re convinced on the science here are the tips from the study.

  1. Limit what you cover in a presentation. Your audience has limited capacity to take it in.
  2. Design your slides so that they can be processed quickly by the visual cortex, allowing the language areas to focus on what you’re saying. This means using more pictures and as few words as you think you can get away with.
  3. Only put on your slides things you want the audience to focus on.
  4. Split information between slides rather than having it all on one slide.
  5. Show a picture that the audience has difficulty relating to what you’re saying. Either ask them to guess the relationship, or explain the relationship to them.


Craig says:

Interesting research, not much discussion of the limitations:

1) The groups were randomised but were they similar at baseline? That is, we do not know whether all of the clever, verbose writers are in the group with the simple slides.

Fix: Participants write several baseline essays after randomisation using traditional and spare slides as source material before doing the test presented.

2) Did the participants understand the purpose of the research? I think it is common belief that 'less is more' for powerpoint presentations and participants may write better essays because they know they are in the 'sparse slides' group.

Fix: Blind participants to the research purpose (may require deception)

3) Do we really believe that number of themes mentioned is a good measure of an essay? Were they instructed to write about as many themes as possible? Perhaps the traditional slide group had significantly better understanding of the themes and were therefore able to write more details but cover less

Fix: Design a better way of measuring information retention.

That said, I'm all for sparse slides but I think we also need better research to prove its effectiveness.