Keep it Simple: Trent Applegate’s Tips for Using Powerpoint

Posted on March 5, 2012


Today, we have a guest post from Trent Applegate, lecturer and emergency care academic director in the Applied Health Science Department at Indiana University – Bloomington. His topic is timely, since ASHA is accepting proposals for general sessions, research sessions, poster sessions, and teaching techniques for its annual conference in San Antonio this October. Click here for details.

When asked if I would be interested in writing a guest post for The Pulse, I thought, “what a great opportunity.” Although I cannot give you the definition of a blog and I always think of a 1950’s movie where teenagers save the town by catapulting one into space, when I hear the term “blog,” I am hoping it will provide me a chance to share some tips and get some discussion and feedback regarding my views on PowerPoint.

My information comes from observing presentations from students in my classes and from attending many professional conferences including those at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), American Public Health Association (APHA), Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), American School Health Association (ASHA) and others. Many times, the speakers have great information, but present it in ways that would make any highly caffeinated person fall sound asleep. I also have reviewed some articles involving PowerPoint.

1. Use as little text as possible.
I am sorry to say, I remember the times before PowerPoint, when slide projectors or overheads were used for presentations. I will always remember a professor I had during a doctoral research course who emphasized keeping slides basic, providing information, but not being distracting to the audience. His rule of thumb was to limit the amount of information per slide to five lines maximum. This should still be kept in mind when putting a PowerPoint presentation together. If I see a slide with too much, small wording information all brought up at the same time, I am not going to read it.

2. Use animation purposefully.
Although PowerPoint is a fantastic tool and is even now being thought of as outdated by the use of social media including facebook, blogs, and podcasts, one of its great advantages is animation. You tech savvy folks know that doesn’t mean computer generated information (CGI) or cartoons. It means being able to control what text the audience pays attention to. You can make lines of text come in one at a time, fade or change the color of the information you’ve covered when you are ready to emphasize the next point. Perhaps you want information from one topic all kept on one slide.

Don’t be distracting with your slides, using wild colors and crazy animation or clipart. As the old saying goes “use the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) method.” I don’t need to see things flying in from all directions and spinning while I’m trying to read it. Use the simple aspects of animation with intention.

3. Prepare as if you had to present without your slides.
You as the presenter don’t need to read every word that is on a slide. Depending on your audience, they can read the slide themselves and doing so may keep them more involved. As you are preparing your presentation, don’t use PowerPoint as a crutch, depending on it rather than being properly prepared.

4. Think hard about handouts.
When I began instructing, I was told to avoid too many handouts. Handouts can be used effectively and may add a positive twist to your presentation, but they can also be distracting. If you give them out at the beginning of your session, your audience will be reading the handout rather than listening to you or, worse, some might take the material and leave, thinking you have nothing more valuable to add than what is on the slide. Wait until the end to distribute material. I realize this advice may be somewhat controversial, but is simply something to consider.

These are just a few basic items to consider when putting together a PowerPoint presentation.  I welcome and appreciate feedback and/or suggestions either sent to me directly at or sent to the blog site.


  • Howell,  D.D.  (2008).  Four key points to powerful presentations in PowerPoint: Take your presentations to the next level.  Tech Trends,  52(6), 44-46.
  • Lai, Y.S., Tsai, H.H., & Yu, P.T.  (2011).  Screen-capturing system with two-layer display for PowerPoint presentation to enhance classroom education.  Educational Technology & Society, 14(3), 69-81.
  • Lamb, A., & Johnson, T.  (2011).  Stop PowerPoint paranoia: Thinking differently about presentation                  projects.  Teacher Librarian, 38(5), 59-64.

If you would like to write a guest post about a topic that concerns you, please contact Heather Gibbons: