3 questions you MUST ask before making a slide



Campus Technology reported in November 2016 that traditional presentation software will be “dead” within 10 years.


As education technologies go, presentation software is easy to learn and most people have access to it, either to PowerPoint, Keynote, LibreOffice Impress or Google Slides. And for busy instructors, you can’t beat a technology with a short learning curve that’s already installed on your device. Slides do get a bad rap, and people do wish they’d go away, because that’s because most people are still making ineffective slides.

Here are 3 reasons NOT to make a slide:

  • to remember what you want to say (teleprompter)
  • to make sure your audience has all the details to take with them (handout)
  • your audience expects to see slides, whether or not your presentation warrants visual aids

Slides were never intended to serve as a 3-in-1 teleprompter, handout and visual aid. When we try to make them serve all these functions at once, we end up doing none of them well.

This point is made in every how-to-PowerPoint book ever written, yet we’re still making these mistakes, perhaps as a function of time, perhaps as  function of habit. But here’s the antidote.

Antidote to ineffective slides

The first best thing you can do to improve your slides is ask yourself what the slide is for.

Ask yourself this question for each and every slide in your deck. The answer should be one of these:

  • clarity
  • retention
  • interest

This is tried and true advice on visual aids for presentations, from the likes of Stephen E. Lucas. He’s the author of The Art of Public Speaking, one of the most trusted and comprehensive public speaking reference books available.

If the slide is NOT there to visually clarify and help students understand a concept, help them remember the information, or to either gain or maintain their interest in the topic, it probably is functioning as a teleprompter. That’s for you–not your students–and you should move that text to the speaker notes.


Lucas, Stephen E. The Art of Public Speaking, 12th ed. Macgraw Hill Education. 2014.

Schaffhauser, Dian and Kelly, Rhea. Top 10 Education Technologies that Will Be Dead and Gone in the Next Decade (opens in new tab). 11/02/16. Campus Technology. Accessed May 21, 2017.


Sometimes bullets are the best choice as a slide design. Often, though, they can detract from learning because students can’t read and listen at the same time.

Here are 5 alternatives to the traditional bullet points-based slide design. You can use #unbulleting to improve the slides-assisted lecture experience for students.

Assertion-evidence structure

Place a statement at the top of the slide and use the rest of the slide to visually prove the assertion. Don’t be afraid to write a complete sentence. This structure lends itself particularly well to charts and graphs.

Assertion evidence structure

Text-based treatment

Carefully selected words to act as a focal point for a particular point.

Text-based treatment

Full-screen image + title

Fill the entire screen with a bold graphic, and don’t forget to use the Title placeholder to write words on the screen. Make sure the text has sufficient contrast against the background of the slide.

full screen image

Graphic + labels

A great way to orient students to parts of a whole, either a concept or a physical object. Animate the labels and appear them in the order you plan to talk about each piece.

graphic and labels

No slide at all

Topics that don’t lend themselves well to visual treatments, or that you don’t expect students to be able to repeat from memory, may not be enhanced by the addition of a slide. Consider this option when you want students just to listen rather than read.

Download and share the #unbulleting reference sheet