Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sydney research article - revolutionary or not?

A number of online publications have picked up on a story this week in the Sydney Morning Herald about some research into the effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations (click here to read the story). Some commentators have suggested that this is breakthrough thinking and it supports why PowerPoint should be banned. I say let's just hold on a second here.

First of all, the research points out what many of us have known for years - PowerPoint is not the problem, poor use of it is. When they talk about the problem of audiences not getting the message when the presenter stands there and reads the slides, that's nothing new. My audience survey in 2003 showed it as the #1 problem and my repeat survey in 2005 confirmed it. This has nothing to do with the software, this has everything to do with the presenter's use of the software. Just because people are not trained properly doesn't mean the tool is to blame. And if you banned PowerPoint, you would violate the results of the study which suggest a visual combined with a verbal message is highly effective.

Second, the suggestion that mixing visuals with the spoken message is more effective has been a main theme of mine for a while now. I even wrote an e-book on it (get it here). Dr. Alan Paivio's Dual Coding Theory has been around for more than a decade and when I applied it to the issue of understanding presentation visuals, it is clear why a well-designed visual combined with a good message will always be more effective. What is missing from most visuals is a good callout that makes the message of the visual even clearer.

I applaud the researchers for adding to the body of knowledge that supports what some of us have been saying for quite a while now. But it's not a revolutionary thought and it certainly doesn't support banning a tool that when used effectively, can improve the understanding of our audiences.


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