Do the hard work to help people learn

Giles, Ella, Matt and Russell have pulled together various opinions about presentations in one place: It’s ace. Follow their links and their advice. Your presentations will be better for it.

In fact, stop reading here if you only ever do presentations in situations that look like this…

The sage on the stage

But, but, but…

But, pedagogy!

Often I find myself makingĀ slides for a different kind of settingĀ – one where people wantĀ active learning, not a passive ā€œtalked atā€ experience.Ā As Giles says,Ā “presenting is performing“. Facilitating, on the other hand, is creating a platformĀ forĀ learners to perform…

Social construction over content transmission

No matter how polished the materials, learning is always an exchange. The facilitatorĀ responds and adapts to participantsā€™ emerging needs during theĀ delivery of a session…

Designing for diversity over delivering standardised material

Over recent months I’ve set myself the challenge of applying allĀ the good stuff fromĀ,Ā overlaid with the thingsĀ I’ve learned about learning. I think it’s working.

Let’s begin with the obvious…

The course is not the slides

… and…

The slides are not your notes

You know those things already, right? Start with an outline of what you hope learners will achieve and experience in the session – an outline you’ve co-created with potential participants. Then plan the activities to support them. Have some slack in the plan so you can change direction, sequence and pace according to the unique needs of each group.

Still,Ā it’s easy to lapse. Like a visual Newspeak, theĀ doingpresentations.comĀ guidance makes slidecrime less thinkable.

Constraints preserve your focus and flexibility…

  • no visual metaphors
  • no wordart or clipart
  • no bullets
  • no slide transitions
  • few words per slide
  • a single font

When the template isnā€™t working, you’ll usually find that the thing you’re making shouldnā€™t be a slide at all. Double down on the other tools in the learning armoury instead…


Leave the instructions for anĀ activity on the screen so everyone knows clearly what they’re meant to do, and how long they’ve got to do it.

Walls and whiteboards

Slides disappear, stuff on walls builds as the session goes on.


Instead of writing the wise person’s words on a slide, getĀ a clip of them speaking for themselves.


Slides can support a conversation, but only if they’re designed and used a certain way…

This is me telling you something

What if I put a question on the screen instead?

Show the thing

If it’s a digital thing, link to it from the slides. Even better, invite participants to tryĀ the thing on their own devices. Keep a few nice screenshots as backup in case of live demo failure.


Put the detail in handouts and takeaways. If those bullet points areĀ important, people will want to refer back to them.

If a 2 by 2 matrix is important enough to explain box by box, people will need to follow the story.Ā 4 text slides can tell the story step by important step – or lose the slides and draw it on a whiteboard.

Above all…

Own your slides

Great presenters always tell the story their own way (which is why nobody should be forced to use someone elseā€™s slides.) The better you prepare, the more you can performĀ in the moment, and respond to what happens in the room.

Examples of slides

Cease transmission.


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Product strategy and design leadership in web and mobile media. Before that I was a newspaper journalist and history student

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