jol>10 Strategies for improving student presentation media



In my role as an Instructional Technology Coordinator, I still see large numbers of students and teachers using presentation media in poorly designed ways.  This presentation, and the 10 steps listed on this page, provide a simple framework for improving presentations, and can be taught to high school age students in about 50 minutes.   Moreover, this presentation is more about communicating visually than it is about any kind of presentation software.


THE GOAL:  this presentation focuses on the content that teachers need to know to be able to teach kids the proper way to communicate visually. (at least from my perspective)

Slide Deck:


Begin Here:  Towards a Framework for Visual Literacy Learning 

Then: Listen to the presentation, featured on the Apple Learning Exchange


PowerPoint resources

Presentation resources

Visual Literacy resources

Brain-based learning resources


10 Strategies:

1.  Teach them biology.  Teach them specifically about the brain.  Presentations should be based in an understanding of how people learn, and to do that, students have to understand some simple ideas about the brain.  Set the stage for creating a different type of presentation for explaining the human processing center.

  • The brain is about 3.5 pounds and is composed of around 12 billion cells.  There is some individual variation.
  • Two critical (at least for presentations) feed the brain.  The eyes and the ears.
  • The ears are connected to the brain via the auditory nerve. 
  • The eyes are connected to the brain via the optic nerve.
  • The optic nerve is constructed of about 1 million nerve fibers; the auditory nerve, about 30,000.  There is a tremendous amount of bandwidth associated with the eye, suggesting that presentations should contain a visual component.

2.  Teach them how to make it visual.  Use images to communicate, not decorate... (source, Slide 9 and 10)

"You can observe a lot by just watching.” Yogi Berra (source)

Text is inefficient.  We read five times as fast as a person can talk. (source)

So...the upshot...avoid text-based slides.  Take advantage of the bandwidth the optic nerve provides and the 3.5 pound hard-drive that humans have and make the slide deck image-based.

"PowerPoint doesn't kill presentations....bullets do" 

"Here's what a speaker owes an audience that travels to engage in person: more than they could get by just reading the transcript."  Seth Godin

Humans have dual processing capability:

  • visual
  • auditory

An excellent presentation takes advantage of both and makes connections between them.  

“Why would you use words on the screen when they do just fine in your mouth?”  Seth Godin (source)

Research by Richard Mayer suggests that people learn best with a combination of imagery and text.  

This does not mean a slide should be content contained in a bullet list with a piece of clip art stuck in the corner of the slide.

Effective slides contain a high-impact image, usually the size of the entire slide, with a limited, but well chosen amount of text.  The majority of the content associated with the slide is spoken, with the image and the text on the screen in direct support of what the speaker is saying.  Detailed information should not be presented on the screen, but in a printed document. 

However, presenters need to consider cognitive load.

"Research on instructional design has shown that the presentation medium does not create learning, but the presentation method does affect learning." (Mayer ____ )

The Cognitive Load of PowerPoint

A description of Cognitive Load Theory from Wikipedia

An interesting of Cognitive Load Theory to mathematics education | Brian Chipperfield

Research into Cognitive Load Theory and Instructional Design at UNSW | Dr. Graham Cooper

Multimodal Learning: What the Research Says | Metiri Group

3.  Teach them how to find the visuals.

Based on the first two strategies, it is imperative that students understand how to locate imagery that can be used in presentations.  Of course, in my opinion that means Flickr, with its 3.5 billion images (that's right, billion with a b!!) providing a rich database of photographs useful for presentations.

I recommend using FlickrStorm as a search tool for locating images.  FlickrStorm searches the "most interesting" area of Flickr and generally returns high-quality imagery.  You can also download your search, and distribute the images via a URL-this works well for younger students where seeing inappropriate content is more of an issue than with older students.

FlickrStorm Tutorial

FlickrStorm Screencasts 1 | 2 | 3

An alternative to FlickrStorm is FlickrCC or Compfight

For professional presentations,  I recommend  This is a pay site, but high-quality imagery can be purchased for one dollar (American) apiece.  The advanced search even enables you to define the location of  "blank space" in an image that can be used to place text into.

25 Other places to get high-quality graphics for free

Kim Cofino's Blog post on imagery and design

4.  Teach them about intellectual property.

Students should have a clear understanding of Creative Commons licensing.   Creative Commons licenses enable people who create content for online consumption to be able to tell others how they may use that content.  From the Web site:

Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright — all rights reserved — and the public domain — no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while inviting certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.

There are a variety of licenses, for example:

Creative Commons Attribution: from the site:

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

Search Creative Commons licensed material here.

FlickrStorm and Creative Commons:  when you search Flickr in FlickrStorm you can search a particular Creative Commons license.  Click "Advanced" under the search term to specify a license.  Most users will select  Photos you can use commercially Attribution.

Watch "Wanna Work Together" which provides an excellent overview of Creative Commons licensing.  Watch it here or go to the Creative Commons site to watch it, as well as a video that describes how to use FireFox and Creative Commons together.  More videos about additional topics are located on the site.


Darren Draper's "The Educators Guide to Creative Commons"

5.  Teach them design.

Several key points to teach kids:

  • avoid bullet points (ignore my bullet point list here!)
  • slides are free, if you have too much content for one, break it into two.
  • never send Powerpoint to do what a handout is intended to do.  Complex content belongs on paper, not on a screen.
  • Slide Redesign 1 is here.  Overhaul focus:
  • Slide Redesign 2 is here.  Overhaul focus:
  • Slide Redesign 3 is here.  Overhaul focus:

Seth Godin on the hierarchy of presentations

Interesting Examples of Design I like:


How will you be different? |  The Gen-Y Guide to Web 2.0 at Work

What elements of design work? | Imagine Leadership

Design Resources | Alec Couros

Need some really bad designs?  Look no further than here.

6.  Teach them to sell.

"Communication is the transfer of emotion"...Seth Godin

"It seems to me that if you're not wasting your time and mine, you're here to get me to change my mind, to do something different.  And that, my friend is selling.  If you're not trying to persuade, why are you here/"  More to resource is here

Have them watch this YouTube video first:  Story of a Sign

What a speaker should be able to do | Seth Godin

7.  Teach them that color and font choice matter.

Sans-Serif vs Serif fonts.  Serif fonts (Times New Roman, etc. | See Slide 42 in the above Slide Deck) are used in printed works and contain "semi-structural details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up letters and symbols" (Wikipedia).  The "hooks" on the letters help the eye travel left to right as one reads.  However, these are not as clear when projected.  Instead, use a Serif font (Arial, Tahoma) that do not contain those elements on the ends of the letters.  These are much easier to read when projected.  This is one of the most simple things students can do to improve their presentations.

Be sure to see 52 Fonts

Color basics (Slides 36-54)

The eye sees yellow first.  Fire engines are now painted yellow-the eye sees that first.  Also, think Golden Arches of McDonalds, the yellow traffic light, etc.

Colored pencil Wheel-slide 39.  Color means different things in different cultures.  In the US:

  • red:  danger, alert-use sparingly
  • blue: Americans favorite color
  • dark blue: trust
  • green: renewal
  • grey and brown:  avoid!

Blockbuster and Goodyear: (Slide 40).  Blue-we like it, yellow, we see it.

Standard Bank:  dark blue-We trust you! (slide 41) 

8.  Teach them to storyboard.

Plan.  Plan. Plan.

Don't send a presentation to do a research report's job.  Do the research paper, and do it deeply.  Use it to prepare a storyboard, and convince me of your position...visually, and with emotion.

9.  Teach them presentations secrets.

Hit the B key-screen goes black.  Hit B again and it returns to the slide deck.

Hit the W key-screen goes white.  Hit W again and it returns to the slide deck.

Teach kids to use hidden slides.

Explore various tips and tricks and shortcuts

10.  Teach them to develop their voice.

Use SlideShare to distribute slide desks

Use SlideRocket to create and distribute slide desks

Use Google Docs with appropriate age students to build, collaborate, and distribute slide desks

Eight ways to extend Presentations


General Resources

Duarte AllTop Presentation Portal

Pecha Kucha Design Tips

Guide to Making a Pecha Kucha


Reviews of this presentation

Kristin Hokanson

Wes Fryer

Ewan McIntosh 



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