Tip of the Week #60                     Tip Index

Go to the Prior Tip Seeing Tomorrow: Rewriting the Rules of Risk
Go to the Next Tip Formatting Thousands and Millions
Return to MaxValue Home Page

PowerPoint: an Inferior Solution for Me?

Some readers may be interested in how I once solved a decision dilemma. It involves choice of technology for writing and presenting training material. The problem was 'dissolved' when I thought of a new and obviously superior alternative.

Several of my friends are accomplished professional trainers. They have convinced me of the importance of color, visibility and presentation variety in the accelerated learning approach.

The problem: What is the best computer software platform for evolving my course materials?

While at this year's SPE Hydrocarbon Economics and Evaluation Symposium, I was impressed by presenters who were using Microsoft PowerPoint's animation features such as fly-in text and dissolving slides.  PowerPoint seemed a logical tool for embellishing my courses.

Of course, Microsoft® and most other company names and products mentioned are registered trademarks.

PowerPoint seemed a logical platform for putting much of the discussion portions of my courses into slide shows. The trick is in integrating the PowerPoint slides with the course notebook.

Using PowerPoint would require a PC, which I almost always have with me, and an LCD projector.  These popular projectors have become widely available, and many good ones are in the $4,000 to $7,000 price range.  Having an LCD projector would allow live software demonstrations and is a necessity for computer-based workshops.

In addition to improving presentation quality, I am interested in reducing the 40 pounds of overhead transparencies that I haul around for my main course.  It seemed that an 8-pound projector could substitute for at least an equal weight of transparencies.   The amount of materials need for two different courses is almost overwhelming.


Early in the week of September 11, after three consecutive weeks of training, I spent three days updating a course notebook.  It seemed a good opportunity to formally incorporate a session on "probabilistic reserves" in PowerPoint format.   Some of the issues I experienced included:

These ideas incubated for a couple of days.  Then I awoke about 12 A.M., one morning, thinking about the problem.  In an especially clear-thinking frame of mind, I set out these ideals:

I had been thinking that each major topic could be presented with an initial slideshow discussion, followed by overhead transparency-based examples and exercises.   Intermixing the formats would be better, but that would require more frequent switching between the computer-based presentation and overhead transparencies.

The idea: Make copies of all slides integral to the notebook and 'floating' among more detailed discussion text.


Here's how I summarized the trade-offs between the two major strategies:

Mixed Slide Show
and Overhead Presentation
Overhead Only Presentation
Less work cleaning up and sorting slides. Less risk of technology failure: either the laptop or LCD projector.  If using a client's or a rented LCD projector, I may continue to have some problems
with poor pixel mapping.
Less travel weight (?). Slides can be written on to embellish and add points.
  No need for backup slides in case of technology failure (I won't reduce weight much if carrying backup slides, assuming 2 slides/transparencies).
Allows live software demonstrations. Avoids an approximate $4,000 cost in an LCD projector. Avoid most theft and transportation damage risks.
Reduces the problem of the instructor obscuring a low screen (if the room has a low ceiling). No need to alternate between PowerPoint slide show to overhead transparencies during presentations.  No need to segregate like-medium-presented material.
Provides color and glitz (variety, animation), thus somewhat accelerating learning. Better able to face the audience when working at the overhead projector.
  Easier to preview. Can look ahead to points below covered by a sheet of paper. Can look at which transparencies to skip without having to display them to the class.
  Participants would naturally have full copies of the presentation, and these accompany further details provided in the notebook.
  Avoids an abrupt transition to a new presentation platform.   Perhaps 100 hours will be saved in avoiding a major translation of notebooks.
  Avoids some PowerPoint formatting difficulties: color and B&W translation; resetting page numbers, no gutter margins; different page orientation.
  The entire notebook is fully integrated in Word. Long-document features are available, such as of creating an Index.

The more-traditional, simpler, and lower-risk technology clearly wins, in my mind. Once again, having a better alternative is most always more important that good evaluation of the alternatives previously known.

The table's cell colors illustrate using Ben Franklin's method of canceling out attributes of approximately equal value.  Most of the remaining unbalanced features, at the bottom of the table, are newly-appreciated issues that were highlighted by my recent notebook-editing experience.

It surprises me how long it took to reach this conclusion.  Moving forward, I'll be gradually implementing a new notebook format that will allow slide-like overhead transparencies (in color if I want) in Word.  Importantly, I'll be able to reduce the transparencies count (and weight) and still feature the necessary details needed in the notebooks.  It is a great feeling to have the decision made

Times change, and so do beliefs. Before fully implementing the strategy determined, above, I recently revisited this decision.

I recently reformatted a test section of a course notebook. This section describes the 10-step decision analysis process. What was formerly about 14 pages of notebook boiled down to one diagram page plus five pages of discussion (formatted in a 2-column, textbook-like font and layout). An overhead projector viewgraph of the figure would be okay for discussion, and this is the backup. Provided the LCD+PC technology is working, about 12 PowerPoint slides will provide a more appealing way to cover this topic.

The venerable overhead projector will be used for exercises and other parts of the course requiring the detailed drawings. PowerPoint slides will provide the medium for perhaps 25% of the class duration.  Participants won't receive copies of the slides; however, the slides will follow the diagram and the text closely. The LCD projector will also enable software demonstrations.  I'm still hoping to reduce the overall weight of what I carry to courses: One box of viewgraphs = 1 lightweight LCD projector.

I knew that I would sort this all out eventually.

—John Schuyler, September 1999.  Revised Dec. 2000

Copyright © 1999-2000 by John R. Schuyler. All rights reserved. Permission to copy with reproduction of this notice.