Slides lead to lower retention

And, yes, they are boring


One person sleeping on a chair in a space filled with chairs facing a presentaiton.
Researchers from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain concluded that slides impede communication, leading to lower retention by the audience.

Interestingly, this study also addressed the misplaced belief that, when using slides, the slides themselves are not the problem. If people knew how to use slideware properly, this argument goes, there wouldn’t be a problem. “PowerPoint doesn’t bore people,” these folks often say. “Using PowerPoint poorly is what bores people.”

I call it the gun argument of presentation delivery. You know. Guns don’t kill people (and all that foolishness). The simple fact is that jurisdictions with fewer guns have fewer gun deaths. Period.

Same with slides. Fewer slides equals improved engagement and less boredom—and greater retention by the audience. Best retention occurs when no slides are used.

The Barcelona study also demonstrated that eliminating slides improves both average and good presenters. In this particular study, two professors delivered identical presentations, each showing slides in one presentation and not showing slides in another. While one professor’s students scored higher overall than the other—i.e. one lecturer was a better presenter than the other—the students who saw slides from either professor scored significantly lower on a post-lecture quiz than those who didn’t.

The Barcelona study was conducted with a base of two-hundred-and-five students registered in a course entitled “The Psychology of Education.” This was a compulsory course for those working toward a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Students were divided into four streams led by two professors. On different days, each professor taught one stream of students in the morning and one in the afternoon. For this study, each professor used slides for one class and a blackboard for the other.

The professors worked together to develop a nineteen-slide, forty-minute presentation for the class in which slides would be shown—fairly “standard” slides that all of us have seen more times than we can count. They also prepared a ten-question multiple-choice quiz to evaluate the knowledge students acquired from the lecture. The test was administered immediately after each of the four lectures and based solely on information taught during class.

Students who didn’t see slides scored twenty-two per cent higher on the quiz than those who did. In other words, by simply shutting off the projector (or simply not sharing slides in any form of remote presentation, such as a webinar), communication effectiveness can be enhanced by twenty-two per cent (and that’s without implementing a single additional idea from One Bucket at a Time).


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