Most scholars use PowerPoint to present a conference paper. At the same time many authors offer harsh criticism regarding its use. We found that PowerPoint does bring on a new form of presentation, but it is not PowerPoint per se which causes some bad presentations, but the choices and behavior of the presenters dealing with all the new possibilities and requirements.

In our study we investigated the use of PowerPoint for the presentation of conference papers, identifying the characteristics of the presentation tool, focusing on the use of text and pictures on the slides and the physical and verbal behavior, such as speech (references, repetition) and/or indicating with gestures of the presenter in relation to these.

We found find different combinations of text and pictures on slides, so there is more to the type of slide of a PowerPoint slide than is usually acknowledged. Even though the default setting is a text slide with bullet-points (which is so often criticized) more variations such as texts combined with pictures and slides with pictures were used, either programmed to show in a dynamic (animated) or in a static way (all the information at once). The text slide with bullet-points was the most used subcategory. While the default setting of PowerPoint tends to steer a presenter into the use of words on a slide, it is still up to the presenter to decide on the amount of text and bullet-points.

Most presenters use text slides with bullet-points, although this might not be the best way to present.

The projection is a distinguishing characteristic of PowerPoint presentations and presenters need to steer the attention of the audience towards (different elements on) the projected slides when it is needed. This is done primarily by looking at the projection. Looking at the projection (and thereby breaking the contact with the audience) replaces the introducing of a slide verbally.

Regarding the reading aloud of the texts we found substantial differences between presenters but we found no relation to the type of slide. It seems thus that reading aloud is therefore not influenced by PowerPoint, but a choice of the presenter.

Working with PowerPoint may be helpful and easy while preparing a presentation, it requires extra skills in giving the presentation. The concept of performance seems to be an apt one to describe all the elements that matter: Speech, using (animated) slides, working with a projection, bodily movements and interacting with the audience. Presenters need an understanding of how the audience processes different sources of information and then being able to orchestrate their attention in an appropriate way.

If we look at PowerPoint presentations as performances, presenters can now be seen as having to be designers, speakers and directors at the same time. It is not PowerPoint per se which causes some bad presentations, but the choices and behavior of the presenters dealing with all the new possibilities and requirements.

 

Reference: Hertz, B., Kerkhof, P. and van Woerkum, C. Presentations of Conference Papers with PowerPoint. Detrimental Software or Bad Presenters? Empirical Data for an On-going Debate. Download the full article as PDF