Death by PowerPoint?

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe the 9 best practices for creating an effective PowerPoint (or Google) presentation
  • Outline 7 storytelling techniques that can help make presentations more effective
  • Import 2 or more photos and/or charts into a PowerPoint or Google presentation, including at least one Creative Commons licensed image from one of the websites identified in the workshop
  • Create an instructional multimedia presentation that conforms to multimedia learning principles, dual coding theory, and cognitive load theory, as well as follows presentation best practices and techniques


We have all been there before… In a class or a meeting, the presenter is reading text off of densely packed PowerPoint slide after slide. If it isn’t death by PowerPoint, reading text off poorly constructed slides to an audience is a very ineffective way to teach or convey information in a business setting. This week we’re going to focus on learning tips and tricks so your presentations engage and persuade, and not bore your audience to death by PowerPoint.

How Can You Avoid Death by PowerPoint?

Because of our growing expertise in multimedia learning theory, we now have the theoretical tools at our disposal to explain why reading densely packed PowerPoint slides is ineffective, along with why a number of other PowerPoint “sins” should be avoided if we want to make persuasive and memorable presentations. Let’s start by watching an excellent video that tells some stories about awful PowerPoint slides and then models the use of several techniques, based on cognitive load theory and multimedia learning principles, that we can use to make our presentations persuasive and effective learning objects.

(19 min)

Please skim over a TED Talk article with some overlapping and new suggestions on how we can improve our presentations:

Here are some of the key takeaways from David Phillips excellent talk and the 6 dos and don’ts article:

  1. Only 1 idea per slide – Cognitive Load Theory
  2. No more than 6 objects per slide (including title and images) – Cognitive Load Theory
  3. Don’t read text off your side, let your audience read it – Redundancy Principle
  4. If in doubt use an illustrative image and short text on a slide, and then tell the rest of your story via narration – Multimedia & Modality Principles
  5. Make sure the most prominent feature of each of your slides is also the most important – Signalling Principle
  6. Make sure your slides tell your story in a way that your audience can follow
  7. Vary the tone of your voice as you present, and make sure to pause at transition points in your presentation, and after making an important point to emphasize it
  8. Use san-serif fonts like Ariel or Helvetica as they are easier to read on screens than serif fonts like Times New Roman
  9. Use contrast to move your audience around the information on your slide – Signalling & Coherence Principles

Storytelling & PowerPoint?

As we discussed last week, storytelling is a powerful teaching tool. That said, we should never forget to put related and well-constructed stories in our persuasive presentations. Note how Don McMillan, in the following video, tells a series of funny stories to help him make his key points memorable in his, Life After Death by PowerPoint presentation.

(a hilarious 9 min video)

Please skim over the following article on storytelling techniques for presentations, and think of ways you could incorporate some of the techniques into the presentation you will make for this week’s assignment, or use them to critique the TED talk you review:

Main points from Nayomi’s article on storytelling in presentations (make sure you read the above article if you haven’t already to get the details for each storytelling suggestion, including presentation video examples):

  1. Immerse your audience in a story
  2. Tell a personal story
  3. Create suspense
  4. Bring characters to life
  5. Show. Don’t tell
  6. Build up to a S.T.A.R. moment
  7. End with a positive takeaway
OPTIONAL: If you'd like to go deeper on public speaking, and explore whether or not you should be reading your presentations, or doing more ad libbing, listen to this wonderful podcast by Tim Harford while you go for a walk (or at your computer if you like). In this episode Tim tells two stories. The first is about a public speaking failure that ended the career of a business leader, and the second speech by Martin Luther King Jr. that has become one of the most famous in the English language. Tim is a wonderful storyteller, and these two stories are entertaining, engaging, and thought provoking. In short, this podcast is a great example of educational storytelling, and a wonderful learning object.

Hands-on Activities

Create a short Presentation using Multimedia Learning Principles

  • Create a 2-minute instructional presentation that conforms as best you can to multimedia learning principles, dual coding theory, and cognitive load theory, as well as follows presentation best practices, techniques, and storytelling that have been outlined above.
  • You can use PowerPoint to make your presentation, or any other tool you like, including tools like Google Presentations, Prezi, or Canva.
  • Record your presentation using the screen capture software of your choice (like Screencastify for example).
  • Post your presentation video to your blog or YouTube using the #DeathByPowerpoint hashtag.


8 Classic storytelling techniques for engaging presentations. (2018, May 30). Sparkol.

Chibana, N. (2015). 7 Storytelling Techniques Used by the Most Inspiring TED Presenters. Visual Learning Center by Visme.

McCue, R. (2020). Principles of Multimedia Learning—A summary.

McMillan, D. (2009, November 9). Life After Death by Powerpoint (Corporate Comedy Video) [Mp4].

Miller, A. (2019, June 13). 6 dos and don’ts for next-level slides, from a TED presentation expert. Ideas.Ted.Com – Explore Ideas Worth Spreading.

Osborn, M. (2020). Photo by Matthew Osborn on Unsplash [Image].

Phillips, David JP. (2014, April 14). How to avoid death by PowerPoint [Mp4]. TED Talks.

Purewal, S. J. (2019). Top 10 world’s worst PowerPoint presentations. PC World.

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