Friday, November 13, 2009

Top 5 PowerPoint Tips for Student Presentations in School

Recently a friend, Beverly, asked if I could please give some advice that elementary school kids could use when preparing PowerPoint presentations for class. For those of you who don’t have kids or grandkids in elementary school, teachers are now requiring many projects to be presented using PowerPoint (our kids started using PowerPoint in third grade).

There are two general ways that PowerPoint seems to be used in classrooms. Sometimes it is used as a way to format a report, where the output isn’t a true presentation, but more of a way to save paper (sentence structure is graded and the report may not even be read out loud by the student). In other cases, PowerPoint is used in conjunction with other written work and the students are truly using it as a presentation tool where they are graded on the use of the tool, their speaking skills and keeping within a stated time limit. Checking the rubric for the assignment will usually indicate which way the teacher expects PowerPoint to be used.

When students are using PowerPoint for a true presentation purpose, the unfortunate reality is that usually the kids don’t get much guidance on how to create and deliver an effective PowerPoint presentation (neither do adults, hence the free information on my site at So here are my five top tips for students who have to prepare a PowerPoint presentation for class.

1. Organize your story
Remember that your teacher and classmates want you to tell the story of what you have done. Whether it is a report on a book you read, an animal you researched or an experiment in science, organize your story into a logical flow of ideas. If the teacher gave you a list of areas they want you to cover, make sure you have covered all the areas in your presentation. Create an agenda slide that will help your audience know what areas you will be covering (this also helps you organize your information). Plan your slides so you cover one main idea per slide. If one area of your topic has three main ideas, plan to use three slides instead of jamming everything on to one slide.

2. Use a simple slide design
I know that PowerPoint allows you to use thousands of colors, fonts, shapes and animation effects in your presentation and you may think they are “cool” to use. The reality is that all these wild things distract from your message. And your teacher wants you to clearly deliver your message. So use a simple design. Have a solid color as your background and pick one or two fonts that are easy to read (Arial and Calibri are two that are easy to read). If you have a dark color as the background, use white as your text color and if you have a light color as the background, use black as the text color – this make your text easy to read. Keep your text at 24 point or larger so that everyone in the classroom can read it easily.

3. Use lots of pictures
Remember that you are doing a presentation, not reading a report to the class. Your slides shouldn’t be just the text that you are going to say. Use pictures, diagrams, graphs or other visuals to illustrate your ideas. You can have a title for the slide that explains the point you are making and a caption under the visual to explain what the audience is looking at, but try to minimize the text you have on your slides. If you need to list items, you can use a bullet point list on a slide, but try to have the majority of your slides as mainly visuals. It keeps your presentation more interesting.

4. Use cue cards or notes
One fear you may have is that if you don’t have everything you want to say on the slide, how will you remember it? That’s where cue cards or speaking notes come in handy. It is perfectly OK with most teachers if you use 3 x 5 cards or notes written on paper to remind you of what you want to say. Don’t write out everything you are going to say, because reading a script sounds boring. Just write down the important words or phrases that remind you of what you need to say about each slide.

5. Rehearse at home and it will be fun
The only way to get comfortable presenting in front of your class is to rehearse doing it at home. Stand up like you would in class, use your notes as a guide for what you want to say, and use the computer or a printout of your slides to simulate what it will be like in class. If you want to feel what it is like having people watch you present, gather some family members or use some stuffed animals to get comfortable being in front of a group. Presentations can be fun when you have rehearsed and are comfortable with what you are going to say.

If you are a parent or teacher, feel free to forward this to other parents, teachers and educators for them to share with their kids or classes. Instead of making our kids fearful of presenting, let’s help them be comfortable by explaining how they can be successful in class. They will carry these skills for the rest of their lives if they learn them when they are young.


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