12 Jul

Learning styles and presentations: A case for words on slides

Many people will argue that bullet point slides in presentations are bad… don’t worry you will not get a contradicting answer from me, when people see words they are conditioned to read them, which means it will take away focus from the presenter. BUT… although a small BUT there is one coming from me.
Some of the books and blogs suggest eliminating words from slides all together and instead, simply present the message with a picture.

Well here is where I see a problem.

My case for words on slides.

Wouldn’t you say that’s the purpose of a presentation is for the viewers to remember what topics were discussed and what actions if any should they take? Ultimately you want the viewer to learn.

Psychology research shows that people learn information in different ways.
This is why presentation development should be user centric.  A good presentation designer/specialist will take into consideration the possible learning styles the viewers might have. Learning styles are simply common ways that people learn (via http://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/):
* Visual (spatial). You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
* Aural (auditory-musical). You prefer using sound and music.
* Verbal (linguistic). You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
* Physical (kinesthetic). You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
* Logical (mathematical). You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
* Social (interpersonal). You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
* Solitary (intrapersonal). You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

By eliminating ALL words you are

1. Excluding the group of viewers that remembers words by seeing them (visual)
2. Leaving viewers to interpret and remember the visual with their own set of words (the non auditory/verbal learners)

I figured out my learning styles early on. This helped me tremendously while I was a student, because if the teacher presented the information one way, I knew what way to use to help me learn and remember it. I’m a visual/logical/physical/solitary learner. The style depends on the type of information I’m processing. For example I remember the spelling of words by the way they look versus how the words sound. I recall information through a visual (imaginary) timeline.
I realized I was a physical/logical learner, during my high school freshman year in Algebra. I solved a problem along with the teacher who was writing it on the board and then I immediately “got it”. To no surprise I’ve excelled in math classes all the way through college where I took Calculus “for fun”.

Out of all the learning styles auditory learning is my Achilles heel and this is the predominant style during most presentations. For example I have the hardest time remembering movie quotes or song lyrics. I’m THAT person that NEVER knows the lyrics and always makes up their own, no matter how many times I could hear a song. Words alone just don’t stick. Later on I learned to simply picture my own images and develop a story for recall that way, but takes focus away from listening.
I hope that at least my personal anecdote will shed some light on this matter and help you decide how to proceed when developing a presentation for a large group of people with different learning styles.
My suggestion would be to always include a KEY phrase/point with a visual unless the visual literally stands for the object it represents.

A presenter can maintain focus by splicing the information timeline:

1. Show the picture
2. Talk
3. Display words
4. Give time to repeat (rehearse)

A good presentation designer should read up on
Learning Styles: http: //www.learning-styles-online.com/
Memorization:  http://www.alamo.edu/sac/history/Keller/accditg/ssmt.htm
Teaching Styles & Strategies http://www.crlt.umich.edu/tstrategies/tsts.php

Comments (5)

  1. Jon Thomas 16. Jul, 2010 at 9:19 am


    I think many people argue against the idea of words because of the rampant misuse of text, most often as long-form bullet points (full sentences). It’s akin to your child asking what time they should be home. They will undoubtedly stay out until that very last minute. Thus, if you argue “for words” then someone will take that and literally run with it.

    If you were to look at my full presentations (approx 50 minutes of content) I use over 100 slides. Probably 75-85% of them have words on them. It’s a rare occasion where I think the image can effectively support the presenter on its own, but it definitely happens.

    So it’s not that I argue for text, but more-so argue for the responsible use of text.

    Jon Thomas
    Presentation Advisors

    • Haute Slides 16. Jul, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Thanks for your comment Jon. You make a great point that I should have emphasized further. Words do have to be used responsibly when one feels the use of words is necessary.

    • Lurraine 09. May, 2011 at 10:31 am

      I bow down humbly in the presence of such garentess.

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