Let’s face it: everyone has either suffered through or subjected others to ‘death by PowerPoint’ or its older, even more boring cousin, ‘chalk and talk’. You just know when someone gets up with a 30-slide PowerPoint filled with tiny-sized font that you are in for a long and tedious ride. But we needn’t endure painful presentations any longer. Today there are more options than ever to spice up our presentations and keep our audience on the edge of their seat.

First off, let’s cover some of the basics...

Why teachers should use presentations in the classroom

In the modern classroom even the word ‘presentation’ can seem outdated, obsolete, a relic of the old guard. Today, some people advocate a complete rejection of the ‘chalk and talk’ style teaching in favour of things like collaborative and experiential learning, but any educator worth their salt knows that presentations can still be an invaluable teaching and learning tool. 

Before students can manipulate, analyse or synthesise information or put skills into practice, they need to have some grounding in that material and those skills. Other than independent research, presenting content to students is one of the most effective and efficient ways in which they can acquire the basic information and skills required to do more complex and sophisticated tasks. 

Not only can teachers use presentations to articulate core content or explain key concepts, students can also use them to demonstrate their own learning or apply their knowledge. 

Once teachers feel confident that they have effectively imparted new material to the class, presentations can be a great way to ascertain student understanding and identify areas of weakness or content that may need to be retaught or reiterated through other activities. 

Presentations work well, not only as formative, but also as summative assessments. At the end of a unit, a presentation can be a successful means of evaluating students’ achievement of outcomes and displaying their ability to apply or demonstrate knowledge and skills, rather than simply regurgitating facts.

Why students need to have effective presentation skills

Some students find delivering presentations highly intimidating and nerve-wracking experiences – and they can be – but with explicit instruction, frequent opportunities to present and the combination of group, pair and individual presentations, this fear and loathing can be overcome.

The ability to develop a presentation is an important skill for students to acquire because this expertise will be required in most subject areas in secondary education, as well as for many courses at the tertiary level of study. It goes without saying that the earlier the skill is developed and the more often it is practised, the more effective the student’s ability to present will be.

Effective presentation skills are also a necessity in the modern workplace. For students who are interested in careers in the corporate world or in creative pursuits, being able to present their ideas or pitch proposals will be of critical importance. If we view schooling as a means to facilitate lifelong learning, as well as a means of acquiring generic and transferable skills, we must accept that teaching presentation skills is essential.

The importance of explicitly teaching presentation skills

While we wouldn’t even consider expecting students to write an essay or make a sculpture without explicitly teaching the required skills, we often assume that students intuitively know how to prepare and deliver a presentation.  This is not always the case. As a result, we can at times fail to model best practice or to provide clear and precise instructions regarding our expectations for presentations.

Some do’s for presentations in the classroom:

Do provide explicit instructions for the task – don’t say something vague and unclear like ‘prepare a presentation on the circulatory system’.

Do model best practice – experiment with and enhance your own presentation style and skills. Try to make direct reference to your own habits and processes in developing presentations.

Do emphasise the ‘one idea per slide’ rule and encourage students to limit text to key points – there is nothing worse than an overcrowded or cluttered slide.

Do assign roles for group presentations or allow students to do this themselves with your guidance – don’t expect students to do this automatically.

Do demonstrate particular presentation methods and programs, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Do evaluate student presentations in an open and constructive way – aim to give specific and timely feedback on presentations.

Do encourage students to reflect on their presentations to work out what went well and how they could improve – don’t leave the presentation as the end of the task.

Do emphasise the importance of things like speaking clearly, audibly and at an appropriate pace. 

Do encourage students to engage with their audience through rhetorical devices, eye contact, body language and gesture.  

Presentation tools, apps and programs

Keynote: Keynote is Apple’s answer to PowerPoint. It comes with a range of templates and allows you to add animations and interactive charts. One of the main downsides is that while it can be shared across Apple platforms, it isn’t compatible with other operating systems.

Prezi: Prezi is like PowerPoint on steroids. Like PowerPoint, it features generic templates for you to work from, but instead of old-school transitions from one slide to the next, Prezi allows you to zoom in and out of your content as needed. Whereas it can be difficult to go back or jump ahead with Powerpoint, Prezi eliminates this problem by making navigation more flexible.

Some benefits of using Prezi include the fact that presentations can be created online or offline, it automatically syncs with iOS and Android devices, and presentations are stored offline as well as in the cloud. The ability to collaborate with others in real-time and on different devices and in other locations is particularly useful for group tasks and removes the issues of absent students or things being left at home. Prezi presentations can also be shared instantly with a personalised link, which makes collection and marking a breeze for teachers.

PechaKucha or Ignite: PechaKucha is a simple presentation format, which involves showing 20 slides or images for 20 seconds each. The slides automatically progress after 20 seconds as the speaker speaks. This forces the speaker to be succinct and make their points as concisely as possible.

Ignite requires even greater efficiency. There are 20 slides, usually images rather than text, as in a PechaKucha presentation, but they advance every 15 seconds. Often these are completed without notes or a prepared speech to create a sense of spontaneity and creativity. This can be a good way to develop students’ skills in improvisation.

Given their emphasis on brevity, the PechaKucha and Ignite presentation models are best suited to things like idea pitches and summary tasks rather than more analytical and in-depth assignments. They can be a great way to get students to distill their ideas into key points and keep them focused on the topic.

Haiku Deck: Haiku Deck is similar to Prezi and PowerPoint in many respects; it is essentially a presentation program that relies on slides. What makes Haiku Deck unique is the creators’ core values: keep it simple (focus on one idea per slide and limit your text), make it beautiful (use attractive images and consistent formatting) and have fun. The developers wanted to ensure that any presenter could captivate his or her audience, so they made millions of free, high-quality photos plus premium imagery from Getty Images available to them. Users can also import their own photos and images or easily create charts and graphs.

PowToon: PowToon’s mission is to create the ‘world’s most minimalist, user friendly and intuitive presentation software that allows someone with no technical or design skills to create engaging professional “look and feel” animated presentations’. Essentially, the program seeks to combine traditional presentations with animation. The creators feel that while a picture tells a thousand words, an animation conveys as idea, and indeed the ability to express something more substantial or complex than a single image is one of the great benefits of PowToon. Plus, there is something infinitely engrossing about animations.

VideoScribe: VideoScribe takes something simple and frequently dull – writing on a whiteboard – and turns it into a work of art. It also appeals to the less technologically adept by allowing users to create their own ‘whiteboard-style animations with no design or technical know-how’. Like Haiku Deck, it comes with stacks of royalty-free images, but it also makes a vast array of music and fonts available to users. It can also be used on any of your devices, works offline, and for those who are more tech-savvy, it is completely customisable.

Projeqt: While there aren’t that many layout options, Projeqt does allow you to embed a massive range of content including Flickr and Instagram photos, interactive maps, RSS feeds, tweets, audio notes, YouTube or Vimeo videos, and any of your own media. It is also user-friendly, works on any device and is easily shared with others. It’s also just pretty cool.

While there are now myriad options for any educator or student when it comes to presentations, the important thing to remember is to select the best medium for your message. Choose a method that you feel comfortable and confident with and one that allows you to most effectively engage your audience and impart your content. With these tips you can say goodbye to boring presentations for good.