Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

27 July 2012

More slides please…

Clark @ 5:45 am

Really?  Yes.  Let me explain:

I’ve been reviewing some content for a government agency. This is exciting stuff, evaluating whether contract changes are valid.  Ok, it’s not exciting to me, but to the audience it’s important.  And there’s a reliable pattern to the slide deck that the instructor is supposed to use: it’s large amounts of text.

Again, exciting stuff, right from the regulations.  But that’s important to this audience; I actually don’t have a problem with it. The problem is that it’s all crammed on one screen!  Why is this a problem?

It’s not a problem for printing.  You wouldn’t want to waste paper, and trees, printing it out. So being dense in this way isn’t bad. No, it’s bad when it’s presented.

When it’s presented, there is some highlighting of the important things. But if you were to hear someone go over the three wordy bullet points on one screen, you’d be hard pressed to follow.  However, if you spaced the same screen out three times, one for each bullet point, , you’d support cognitive load more appropriately.  You’re using more screens, but covering the same material in the same time, you’re just switching between screens emphasizing the separate points.  And you don’t have to put each bullet point on a separate screen; to help maintain context you could have the same text but only the relevant one clear and the others greyed out or blurred.

Hey, screens are cheap. In fact, they’re essentially free!  Using more screens when presenting doesn’t cost any more.  Really!  You can address each point clearly, maintaining context but helping focus attention.  It’ll help the instructor too, not just the students.

Ok, so there is one cost.  Maintaining a separate deck for printing and projecting could be some extra management overhead.  But for one, who’s better at policies and procedures than the government?  More seriously, I often will have a slide in my deck that’s a prose version of something I convey graphically, e.g. the five slides I use to present Brent Schlenker’s five-ables of social media (findable, feedable, linkable, taggable, editable).  In the presentation I have a slide with an image for each. For print, I hide those five and show the one text one.  It’s not that hard.  The same principle could be used here, the full slide for printing, the three equivalents for presenting.

There are times when you want more slides. They’re simpler, more focused, and better support maintaining context and focus. Don’t scrimp on the slides.  It’s better to have slides with not so much text, but if you must, space it out.

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you Clark! I couldn’t agree more. You should have heard the gasps in horror as I said I had 25 slides for a 10 minute presentation a few months ago. Then came in at 9 minutes and 54 seconds, the only one to come in on time out of 5 presenters. I think it helps me keep my time better to have more slides. I don’t get lost in the slide like I might with everything displayed at once. It also helps if there presentation will ever be done virtually. Now you don’t lose people because they are reading your slide and gives a continually changing screen for people watching.

    Comment by Sean — 27 July 2012 @ 9:14 am

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