From Words to Pictures: Imagery in PowerPoint Presentations


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A brief introduction, by example, of how presenters are weaving images and words together to provide lively, cohesive presentations with PowerPoint as a tool rather than a hindrance; delivered as Infopeople mini-demo at the California Library Association conference in Long Beach (November 2008)

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  • All too often, we use PowerPoint to help us organize our thoughts in a text-based way. Words and bullet points fill our screens, make us glaze over, and hinder rather than inspire learning. Fortunately for us—and those we work with—plenty of presenters are experimenting with ways of incorporating images into the teaching-training-learning process. The result is more creative presentations and a sense of collaboration between presenters and those who look to them for memorable learning experiences.
  • A primary thing to remember as we present is that learners can only assimilate so much in a given period of time. Anything we can do to help them—providing memorable images to anchor the lessons we are trying to share, for example—can only contribute to the overall experience we all have. A bored instructor = a bored learner = wasted times and unlearned lessons. So how can we keep ourselves and our learners awake?
  • We start with simple elements before we even begin to create our slides. Instead of constructing presentations word by word and bullet by bullet, we think about what we want to accomplish. We start with simple elements. And if we are effective, we gather stones to build the bridge which helps a learner walk away with something which is helpful, useful, and memorable.
  • We stimulate and inspire those with whom we work by looking for new ideas. Or new ways to present old ideas which are worth repeating. The old cliché of a light bulb representing an idea takes on an entirely new life—and becomes sticky—with just a little bit of creativity. And then we look to build connections. With words. Shapes. And more images.
  • It may seem like a stretch, but juxtaposing shapes—like the single light bulb in the previous slide with these light-bulb-shaped balloons—might open us up to other more important connections which might otherwise not be made. We’ve jumped from one, single memorable image to a colorful image which leaves us open to all sorts of connections—like the idea that our ideas, like the balloons, might take off in poetic ways and soar to greater heights.
  • It all comes back to focus and continuity. Instead of allowing ourselves and our learners to be overwhelmed by those countless ideas floating like balloons, we work to bring it back to something simple and direct. Something which we can take in at a glance and, through reflection, absorb until it feels as if we’ve always owned it.
  • But once again, if we’re new to the process of incorporating images into presentations while stepping away from text and bullet points, the question remains: how and where do we begin? What roads to success might we travel? Where do we start when we’re not sure where we’re going? It’s as much about planning as it is about execution.
  • We want to make PowerPoint a tool, not a focal point, for our presentations. This starts with us planning what we want to say. Creating a basic script. And, as Cliff Atkinson suggests in Beyond Bullet Points , thinking almost filmically, creating a storyboard once we have our presentation plotted.
  • We want to remember that our learners came to us to hear and interact with us, not to watch us read something they could have read by themselves. We all may love books or books on tape or books on our Kindles, but interactive learning opportunities work well when content is integrated, not repetitive and unimaginative.
  • When we use combinations of text and images—photographs, screenshots, custom-made graphics—we hold our learners’ attention and keep them alert and alive. When our words and our images work together, they reflect the way presenters and audiences work together to reach their common goal: transferring information and ideas from those who have it to those who want and need it. And everybody wins.
  • When we replace bullet-point lists with combinations of words, phrases or short sentences and images which enhance our ideas, we add to the narrative. Which, of course, draws learners into what we are attempting to convey and makes us all part of the same collaborative picture rather than floating pieces which do not fit together.
  • One of the nicer underused tools within PowerPoint is the Slide Sorter function. While we’re creating our presentation, we use the slide sorter to see all the slides next to each other. It helps us create a cohesive narrative by looking for consistency from slide to slide. We can see how the words and images fit together to tell that cohesive story we are trying to tell. This helps us give our learners an anchor rather than leaving them adrift.
  • Since we recognize that we are social animals, we find that we’re successful as presenters if we keep things interactive and collaborative. Avoiding long lectures, creating in-class or online interactions and exchanges, means we remove ourselves from being the focal point and let the learners become partners in what we do. And, again, everyone wins.
  • When we are involved in webinars, when we are heard rather than seen, we need more slides so we can put new images on the screen more frequently than when we do a standard face-to-face presentation. The more frequent switching of images—a technique you will have noticed that I’m using in this mini-demo—creates a sense of motion, momentum, and flight. Which, as you might imagine, helps keep the learning process alive.
  • Narrative, as I’ve mentioned, helps to make a lesson stick. We all love stories, and we need to remember that stories can be comprised of words as well as made of images. The more we overtly or subliminally create a narrative flow through the images we choose—again, repeating shapes or colors or even similar subjects—the more likely we are to leave our learners with lessons they’ve learned well.
  • The more we combine our text and imagery, the more effective we become. None of us really enjoys reading a list of citations; seeing book covers, on the other hand, gives us yet another way of remembering what we’ve learned. And if the books being cited are at all familiar to us, the sight of the covers helps to reinforce what we are hearing.
  • All of this, I hope, helps to plant another seed: we can and should try anything which successfully engages an audience of learners. It’s through engagement that we build the bridges which convey what we have learned to others who are interested in learning. Great presentations encourage exchanges so that everybody learns and wins.
  • Anyone interested in pursuing what we’ve covered today would do well to start with Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points and his website. He teaches the basics of using PowerPoint and, more importantly, immediately leads us away from text- and bullet-based presentations in an attempt to engage us and those with whom we work.
  • The Pecha Kucha style of presentation lends itself nicely to a Beyond Bullet Points approach. It is based on a format in which presenters use 20 slides, with each slide remaining visible for twenty seconds, to produce a seven-minute presentation. It’s fun, challenging, and dynamic, and provides one example of the point made earlier: more slides, when used effectively, create a sense of motion and momentum to keep learners engaged.
  • Finding free or inexpensive images is becoming fairly easy. Flickr and the Library of Congress photo archives offer tremendous numbers of images which can be used for little more than a credit line. iStockphoto is a service which provides images for little more than a dollar per piece. Google Image Search provides access to countless images on the web, but we need to be careful that what we find and use is, indeed, free of copyright protection. Giving credit to photo sources is good practice.
  • From Words to Pictures: Imagery in PowerPoint Presentations

    1. 1. From Words to Pictures: Imagery in PowerPoint Presentations By Paul Signorelli For Infopeople CLA 16 November 2008
    2. 2. Lots of Information = Little Retention
    3. 3. One begins to build a bridge with the placement of one stone
    4. 4. A New Idea= 1,000 Words
    5. 5. Ideas Floating Upward Like Balloons
    6. 6. From Many to One
    7. 7. We’re On Our Way
    8. 8. Using Rather Than Being Used By Tools
    9. 9. Seen, Not Read
    10. 10. Transfers
    11. 11. Putting It Together
    12. 12. Slide Sorter as an Anchor
    13. 13. Interactive and Collaborative
    14. 14. Motion and Momentum
    15. 15. Stories
    16. 16. Visual Bibliographies
    17. 17. Trying Anything to Build a Bridge
    18. 18. Notes on Style 1: Beyond Bullet Points HOME     BLOG     Sign In
    19. 19. Notes on Style 2: Pecha Kucha  
    20. 20. Notes on Style 3: Image Sources
    21. 21. Credits (All images taken from Title slide: zeema999's photostream at Yawning cat: Catalina Pimentel at Ponte del diavolo: ioilpeggiore Light bulbs: Cayusa at Balloons: mortimer at Single balloon: ms4jah at Tools: macropoulos at Open book: ivomathieugaston at Transferring baton: hueythatsme at Jigsaw puzzle: gualizoe at Anchor: plbmak at Hands: five2b4u at Hawk: sypix at Storyteller: FrogMiller at Chicago bridges: spudart at