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PowerPoint Reform: a first chapter

After 10 years, it was time.  We could not sit through another bullet-ridden, brain-numbing student presentation.  We interviewed the kids.  For them it was just as bad.

They dreaded each others’ PowerPoints.

Though we’ve been using other tools for communication, sometimes the slideshow really seems the best choice.

We knew that presentation styles had changed.  At conferences and on websites we’d seen so many effective examples.

But we knew that breaking 10 years of bad habits was going to be a process.  And with PowerPoint so ingrained in our culture, we also expected a fight.

So, with Senior Seminar research presentations looming, about two months ago we began our focus on change.

Technology coach Ken Rodoff and I worked with classroom teachers to break bad habits. We worked with one English class preparing presentations on Ethan Frome and four Senior Seminar classes.  

What we shared:

  • We told the students to aim for no bullets.  Aim for just one word or phrase on a slide. 
  • We told them to aim for one powerful image on a slide.  That image could be accompanied by minimal text or no text at all. 
  • Clipart was banned. (Well, we tried.) Why should anyone use canned art in a landscape where the people of the world are generously sharing original media?
  • We pointed students to our Copyright Friendly Images pathfinder, our Image Generator Pathfinder, and to Flickr’s Creative Commons Pool.  We told them to search for images conceptually rather than literally.  For interest, what images would photographers tag to represent "lonely"or "cold"? We also told them to create their own images.
  • If they needed to include a quote, students were to look for the nugget within the quote.  To shorten it as much as possible. To discover its essence.
  • We told students that slides were cheap. In fact, they are free.  Use as many as you need.  Run through some quickly. Stay on some a while. Consider the pace required by the slide or the thought. We got rid of requirements like: include fifteen slides–one should be your introduction, one should include your thesis, five should include specific evidence, etc.  (Works cited or credit slides were, of course, required.)
  • We told students to be creative in grabbing and maintaining attention.  There was no formula for presentation. Think outside the box. 
  • We echoed the words of one student from a class unit we piloted last year–"the slides are for the audience; they are not for me."
  • We reminded students of rhetorical devices.  One classroom teacher showed students exemplars of good speaking techniques using TED’s impressive archive of inspiring speeches.

What we discovered:

  • On the whole, the students who listened to us did better presentations. Their slides looked way better.  They looked modern–without the 90s digital accent. (With the exception of one dedicated WordArt fan.)
  • Without their bullets, students were forced into storytelling.  They connected with their audience.
  • Those students who chose to ignore our advise and continued to use bullets, kept turning to look at their slides.  When the audience saw a slide appear with five or six bullets, you could almost see them sigh. The presenter also appeared tired when faced with the prospect of covering all those bullets.  You could also hear quiet snickers when a student chose to use clipart.


  • The Ethan Frome group whined incessantly during our first lesson.  They couldn’t believe we wanted them to lose the bullets.  "How do you expect us to know what to say?"  We recognized that we were breaking 10 years of bad habits.  After a while, however, the students got involved with the aesthetics of their slides. Many of those slides convincingly evoked a cold New England winter.
  • Students who weren’t prepared appeared less prepared.  If they didn’t know their content, it was clear.
  • Some students are better storytellers than others. It was clear.
  • Some students got a little too involved in slide design. They kinda overlooked sharing their compelling thesis or their evidence.


  • The students learned about communication and what makes an effective presentation. The presentations revealed both good and bad models and the student audience seemed to know the difference.
  • Many students thought outside the box. The spoke to their audience.  They used humor. They used rhetorical devices–quotes, metaphors, repetition, questions, etc.  We saw audience engagement and we suspect that some of the presentations inspired learning.
  • Many students appeared truly pleased with their new and improved products. 
  • We’ll know a little more as we interview the students and get more of their reactions. (More on this later.)
  • We know we have much more work to do. 
  • We know we need to work further with teachers on what to value.  We need new rubrics.
  • The lesson was sticky.  We could tell students will continue to use these new strategies.


Among the resources we used:

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Stephanie Willen Brown says:

    I heard Garr Reynolds & some other PowerPoint colleagues talk about presentation skills in a recent podcast. What struck me from that discussion was that we need to teach presentation skills much as we teach writing & math skills. Glad to see someone is taking this on at the school level — I will try to do it in grad school, but it’s going to be tough …

  2. av2learner says:

    Thanks for sharing such relevant and true to life experiences with us.

  3. Thanks for this post. I’ve forwarded it to my faculty as a reinforcement to a discussion we’d had previously about PPT and how it’s being misused by students (and teacher!). This gives them an example of another way to develop PPT lessons. Unfortunately, only the TED and Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bulletts links are viewable — our district blocks all wikis and most blogs. I doubt my teachers will take the time to look at this from home. Luckily, your blog is still accessable!

  4. As soon as I started to read your blog I knew I had to respond. Throughout my educational career, I have suffered through countless PowerPoint presentations. As a secondary education student at Illinois State University, I am interested in ways to free future students from the monotony of giving presentations. I have noticed that people, even adult presenters, tend to read from their slides. The bullets become a crouch for the presenter to lean on instead of a tool to help grab the audience’s attention. You strongly urged students to not use bullets and as a result your “students were forced into storytelling.” I believe this is a prime example of how technology is not a barrier that keeps people isolated from one another, but a tool that can bring us closer than we imagine.
    I must also commend you on the control your class had over the structure of their presentation. By throwing out requirements on the number of slides or slide type specification (introductory, thesis, and so forth), students have a choice to express themselves outside of the standard for presentations in the past. Good luck with the refinement of your plan.

  5. I join you in this mission to improve students’ powerpoint presentations. It is a slow effort, but I too encouraged students to complete their slides using the suggestions you cited: more pictures, etc. I am anxious to look at your resources. Thanks.

  6. I have started doing this recently as well, with examples of boring and interesting ppts. I also require a link to a video and links to informative websites. This has really seemed to help.

  7. Great info! I will be forwarding this to our network manager who is getting ready to do pd on “basic” powerpoint. We’ll see if he teaches bullets or creativity.

  8. This is good information for teachers as well as students. Even our teachers get caught up in the production of a powerpoint and lose the focus on content of the presentation.

  9. Library Adviser says:

    A very timely posting, which has inspired library advisers in our area (in NZ) to take a fresh look at the tools we’re using in our presentations to teachers and school library staff.

  10. Like a previous poster, I, too, am studying secondary education at ISU. During my time in school, I have suffered through too many boring power point presentations. For some people, it is akin to reading off notecards, only now we get too see the notecards, too! I think too many people use the power point as the presentation, rather than an aid. I think the tips you gave will help me use the power point more effectively in the future, as both an educator and a student. I especially liked your ideas on how to search for pictures more creativly, like searching for a concept rather an actual image. I also think it is so important to lessen the restraints we put on students. For exaple, you mentioned not requiring a specific number of slides. Putting too many requirements on a project stifles creativity and makes people to that specified amount, just to fulfill a teacher’s request. I hope to pass this information on to my future students.

  11. Like a previous poster, I, too, am studying secondary education at ISU. During my time in school, I have suffered through too many boring power point presentations. For some people, it is akin to reading off notecards, only now we get too see the notecards, too! I think too many people use the power point as the presentation, rather than an aid. I think the tips you gave will help me use the power point more effectively in the future, as both an educator and a student. I especially liked your ideas on how to search for pictures more creativly, like searching for a concept rather an actual image. I also think it is so important to lessen the restraints we put on students. For exaple, you mentioned not requiring a specific number of slides. Putting too many requirements on a project stifles creativity and makes people to that specified amount, just to fulfill a teacher’s request. I hope to pass this information on to my future students.

  12. Susan Ettenheim says:

    Joyce – You continue to disrupt my life and allow me to disrupt in the most positive way, the lives of those around me. Thank you! We’re going to join you in this crusade!

  13. joycevalenza says:

    Welcome aboard, Susan!

  14. Yeah I agree thank you for the insight

  15. Devin Grant says:

    wow just wow this was pretty boring thanks for wasting 8 minutes of my life.I love bullets let them stay in my powerpoint

  16. HOW DARE YOU!!! says:


  17. Brandon Fryza says:

    Bullets are hot! They pretty much rule

  18. Michael D. says:


    A couple of weeks ago I did give lessons based on the information you gave here using the wiki of resources to illustrate to students how to improve powerpoints.

    I’m very proud to say 1 student was so interested they came to me for extra help (this was a first after I was done with a class) and their powerpoint went from abysmal to inspiring with a few nudges and reminders from the class.

    The rest I think were shelved unfortunately for reasons outside my control…but the promise was there and I saw the difference in their faces when I told them bullets kill (presentations) – no one ever told these kids what really should be in a PP or how to be creative with them.

    I’m now working on my own Powerpoint which will be put on slideshare which I hope to include some best practices to show others the potential…

    I work with Susan so I share her enthusiasm in joining you on this – for the first time in a few years I find myself saying “Bring on the powerpoints!”. Thank you for helping lead the charge.

  19. Mark Gudger says:

    Excellent! Even at the master’s degree level, the flying clip art shows up in virtually every presentation. I actually had a professor that took off a couple of points for my not incorporating animation in my presentation! I pointed out that the presentation was geared toward adults, not kindergartners and just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. He gave the points back…Rock on presentation reformers!

  20. JJ Avinger-Jacques says:

    This is so timely for me to read. My Teacher-Librarian cohort just gave our first in-class presentations and they ran the gamut! I just watched your link to PP Extreme Makeover and what a lot of fantastic pointers to make our presentations so much more engaging. Thank you for blogging about this for one newbie!

  21. Well, I’m glad I read this post! I’ve been thinking I’m pretty savvy because I learned to put together a power point presentation last year! 🙂 Guess I’ll need to take what I’ve learned and evolve!

  22. JTreistman says:

    It’s all about adapting and improving. I see my Teacher-Librarian cohort precedes me (again). We all sat through each other’s 15 minute presentations – our culminating projects. The better we get at the skills the more we’ll be rockin’! Don’t forget to keep light on your feet and look for the humor in things.

  23. This info comes just after I presented for my graduate level cohort. I could see that I may have been able to achieve some of the suggestions, and I’ll continue to strive for better. Thanks for the outlined thoughts. I am a person who does like to visually see information bulleted because the ideas are clearer to me. I’ll work on the idea of using more slides and images to convey the main point with no bullets. Great Info!

  24. Herschel Sarnoff says:

    I used Powerpoint in my last 7 years teaching Social Studies and GIS. They were the most powerful teaching tools I had yet encountered. I agree with much of the criticism but if you get it right Powerpoint is best instructional tool we have now. My Powerpoints were so successful that upon retiring I started a small company and have been selling many thousands to teachers around the world.
    The company name is multimedia learning LLC.

  25. joycevalenza says:

    Herschel, I agree absolutely. It’s not the software, it’s the way we’ve come to use or misuse it.

  26. I am sharing this with the members of my team, and I plan on using these guidelines in my classroom. Thanks so much!

  27. For years I have watched high schoolers create a 10 slide ppt in a few minutes that sang and danced and earned them an A, while never having learned one fact. I began to work with a few teachers to develop using one ppt slide as an electronic poster with minimal text and powerful images. They used the notes feature in ppt for keywords that would help them present a 3 minute speech on their topic. It works great!

  28. Thing #4 -Jennifer coleman says:

    I like the way you have discussed different and creative ways to enhance PowerPoints. I think kids would be interested if you put something different than the basic bullets and numbering. I love Word Art and Clip Art. I think these would be a nice touch.

  29. The point is to move beyond WordArt and Clipart to compelling images or original art. It’s about the audience.

  30. says:

    I am greatly impressed but also curious. I would love to do something like this with students but many teachers are intimidated by my efforts to bring something new to the table. How do you overcome this obstacle?

  31. joycevalenza says:

    Cypayne, Most of our teachers were so desperately bored with student presentations that they welcomed the shift. Sell this as a way to wake the everyone up. Offer to teach and help assess. This one shouldn’t be a tough sell! Good luck.

  32. Carole Oayne says:

    Sorry, I can spell…my fingers do not always know that when I am typing on a laptop…”interesting” is the word I was trying to type.

  33. Carina Pierce says:

    I am also a library media specialist student and just started a collaboration project with a 6th grade teacher. The kids are researching and presenting countries. Part of the unit is a PP presentation, and the teachers have the bullets all laid out for the kids (they just have to delete and type in the population number for their country). At this grade level, maybe the point is to just introduce them to PP and how easy it is to use, but I’m thinking there’s no reason they can’t be much more creative from the very beginning. They have long presentation careers ahead of them, after all. I don’t know if the classroom teacher will let me ”

  34. At our school, we teach basic PP skills as young as 1st & 2nd grade. I encourage the teachers to have their students ‘storyboard’ the presentation first, then create the PP with all text only. Once the teacher has approved the text, THEN the student may make changes to background and format and add graphics and animations. I really like some of the suggestions in this article and am going to try to implement them in my classes – fewer words, more jpgs, less clip/wordart. The hardest part is making the students work in their own words and not plagiarize on-line sources.

  35. Suzanne Casart says:

    After over 35 years of teaching English, I finally have access to adequate technology to enhance my teaching and my students’ learning. My 9th graders have to give speeches. In the past, I’ve discouraged PP precisely because they (and I) did not know how to use it effectively. Your suggestions will help me immensely to help them. Thank you!

  36. Denise Kutch says:

    Loved your ideas! Thank you! I, too, have been lulled to sleep so many times by PowerPoint presentations. Loved the links to presentations about how to lose bullets, create impact, and show emotion — all of which connect with the audience.

  37. metrotchr says:

    I am grateful for your article on reforming Power Point presentations. You provided links to some excellent websites depicting examples of awesome Power Points. I love all the tips that you gave and I even learned what not to do. I will be able to pass on these tips to my students before they form some bad habits with Power Point presentations.

  38. Thank you for putting into words what I have been thinking about PPT presentations. I also appreciate your suggestions on how to minimize the text and use the slides as a visual reinforcer only. I have forwarded this to my peers.

  39. Samuel Orekoya says:

    Thing 4–Every teacher should visit your blog for this informative presentation on power point reforms.This topic will be discussed in our departmental meeting.

  40. I thought I was crazy, I’ve been trying to convince my 7th graders to not over do bullets. I want them to know what they are talking about and not rely on what’s on the screen. I plan on forwarding this to my tech teacher so these ideas can be presented in our computer classes. Thank you, I now have my thought on paper and said by someone else. I’m finally not alone.

  41. Thing 4 – I have to do a Powerpoint presentation in a couple of days, and I really liked reading this post. It confirmed my thoughts that the slides should just present the gist of the point you want to make, not distract the audience from paying attention.

  42. Thanks – it was discouraging to attend the NJASL Convention this year and sit through countless power points. Unfortunately it seems that the expectation is that if there is a presentation, there must be a power point : ( Voice thread anyone??


  1. […] really liked the post “PowerPoint Reform” because I have been struggling with the issue for a couple of years now. I don’t have kids […]

  2. […] had a little bit of trouble locating this post Power Point Reform, but it worked great in the end because I registered to newsletter and found other interesting […]

  3. […] blog that I thought was interesting was PowerPoint Reform by Joyce Valenza. It’s interesting that my dear friend Ali who lives now in Bangkok, […]

  4. […] did like the blog on power points. My students have recently given the most boring ppts by doing all the things that were listed as […]

  5. […] 9th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized Great Tips on Power Point Presentations from Librarian Joyce […]

  6. […] I found this entry about the misuse of PowerPoint in the Never Ending Search blog located at The blog is written by Joyce Valenza who is a teacher/librarian, technology writer, and blogger. PowerPoint has been used for the past decade as the way to present information visually to an audience. In its infancy (and still today), we were so excited to no longer have to create diagrams, graphs, and illustrations by hand. We could display text so those present could “read for themselves” information pertinent to the presentation while the presenter spoke about the topic more in depth. Text and pictures could fly on and off the slide, appear and disappear, and even do a somersault or two. All of the sudden boring presentations became very visual and often entertaining. There is no doubt that a PowerPoint presentation can enhance an otherwise mundane speech; however, it can just as easily make the audience bored to tears. Teachers (me included) have programmed our students to prepare presentations in a way that is so scripted and “gradeable” by a rubric that the “presentation” aspect has been all but lost. This blog entry talks about reprogramming teachers and students to use PowerPoint more effectively as a presentation aid instead of the presentation entirely. Here are the new rules to follow for PowerPoint presentations: 1. No bullets—one word or phrase on a slide 2. One image per slide –text optional 3. No clipart 4. Use conceptual images 5. Shorten quotes to just the “nugget” that is important 6. Use as many slides as you need 7. Think outside the box 8. Slides are for the audience not the presenter 9. Use good speaking techniques This new criterion brings PowerPoint back to a presentation aid and lets the speaker present the material in a more traditional way. Speakers who are well prepared present their information to the audience in a speech format with PowerPoint being a tool to help convey meaning to certain parts of the speech. According to the blog post the students and teachers interviewed dreaded having to watch numerous PowerPoint presentations laden with too much text and scripted information. I know from personal experience that I and my students do not look forward to presentation days because they are usually long and boring. I plan to implement these new tools into my classes to provide students with a better learning experience that will teach them about making presentations and not just creating slides and reading them to the audience.   New Technology Review   […]

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