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Friday, July 31, 2009

Brain Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses

I've mentioned John Medina and his book Brain Rules before. It's chock full of good information and I highly recommend you pick it up. Below is one of the Brain Rules that most applies to the topic of using PowerPoint in preaching. If vision is so drastically important to effectively communicating, then we'd better do something about it.


Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.

  • We are incredible at remembering pictures. Hear a piece of information, and three days later you'll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you'll remember 65%.
  • Pictures beat text as well, in part because reading is so inefficient for us. Our brain sees words as lots of tiny pictures, and we have to identify certain features in the letters to be able to read them. That takes time.
  • Why is vision such a big deal to us? Perhaps because it's how we've always apprehended major threats, food supplies and reproductive opportunity.
  • Toss your PowerPoint presentations. It’s text-based (nearly 40 words per slide), with six hierarchical levels of chapters and subheads—all words. Professionals everywhere need to know about the incredible inefficiency of text-based information and the incredible effects of images. Burn your current PowerPoint presentations and make new ones.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


The good folks over at Lifehacker pointed me to a great add in for MS Office. It's called OffiSync, and it allows you to sync up your Office documents with your Google Docs, which is way cool for saving and retrieving files from the 'cloud'.

But for me the true awesomeness of this program is that it allows me to do a Google image search from within PowerPoint. I can find the images I want and put them in the presentation without leaving PowerPoint. So cool.

The only caveat is that it is in beta, so it is a little glitchy. I can live with that though.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ten Thoughts on Using PowerPoint Effectively

The good folks at the University of Texas have compiled some very good thoughts about how to use PowerPoint.
PowerPoint, when displayed via a projector, is a useful tool for showing audiences things that enhance what the speaker is saying. It is a useful tool for illustrating the content of a speech, such as by showing photos, graphs, charts, maps, etc., or by highlighting certain text from a speech, such as quotations or major ideas. It should not be used as a slide-show outline of what the speaker is telling the audience.

To put it another way - PP should offer a seperate channel of communication rather than duplicate the verbal channel.

Thanks to ESL on the Hill for this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What if Abe used PowerPoint?

This is a great example of why people hate PowerPoint.

Thanks to Dave Barr for pointing this out to me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

PowerPoint tips and tricks #1

PowerPoint is a powerful software tool that, unfortunately, suffers from under-use. Truly awful presentations are often the result of the user not knowing how to take full advantage of the tool that they have.

I will regularly be posting tips about how to get the most out of this software.

Today: Key helpers
CTRL, SHIFT, and ALT can really help you get things done.

Dragging and dropping - hold down CTRL to make a copy, hold down SHIFT to move in a straight line (either vertically or horizontally), hold down ALT to move smoothly (it won't jump from point to point).

Resizing - hold down CTRL to expand the item from the middle, hold down SHIFT to expand while maintaining the aspect ration, hold down ALT to expand smoothly (it still won't jump from point to point).

Selecting - hold down SHIFT to select multiple page elements

Get Fancy - you can combine many of these tips. For example you can select multiple page elements by SHIFT-clicking on them and then hold down CTRL to make copies of them all. You can drag and drop holding down both SHIFT and CTRL to make a copy that is in a straight line from the original. You can hold down all three to make a copy that is in a straight line and moves smoothly.

What tips do you have?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Teach Naked"

Funny how that title gets one's attention.

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education they have an article about how the dean of the art school at Souther Methodist University has removed all the computers from his classrooms and instead enouraged the teachers to "teach naked."
More than any thing else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather using it as a creative tool.
I wonder, though, whether eliminating the tool is the solution. It seems to me that PowerPoints are "boring" because they are poorly used and poorly designed. I don't think that a teacher who provides poor quality PowerPoints will all of the sudden be interesting because they aren't pojecting their lecture anymore.

Kudos to them for seeing the problem. Maybe they need some help with a better solution.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Brain Rules for Public Speaking

Author, professor and neuroscientist John Medina has written a book called Brain Rules in which he unpacks the mysteries of the brain with a series of rules that can apply to a whole host of topics, not the least of which is preaching.

He recently blogged about Brain Rules for Public Speaking - I bet he has something to tell you about preaching. Check it out below:

Scott Berkun recently interviewed John Medina for his blog Speaker Confessions. Scott asks the question: what makes public speakers good or bad? He's working on a book to answer that question.

SB: How can a lecturer use attention, but make sure not to abuse it? Or put another way, does repetitive use of phasic alertness, getting an audience to refocus their attention ever few minutes, have declining effects over time?

JM: I do not believe in entertainment in teaching, during the holy time information is being transferred from one person to another. I do believe in engagement, however, and there is one crucial distinction that separates the two: the content of the emotionally competent stimulus (“hook”). If the story/anecdote/case-history is directly relevant to the topic at hand (either illustrating a previously explained point or introducing a new one), the student remains engaged. Cracking a joke for the sake of a break, or telling an irrelevant anecdote at a strategic time is a form of patronizing, and students everywhere can detect it, usually with resentment, inattention or both.

Do you think the size of a classroom has any effect on students ability to pay attention? Does Posner’s model of attention change if we are alone in conversation, vs. in an audience of 99 other people listening to a lecture?

I don’t think the size of the classroom has anything to do with the functional neural architecture proposed by Posner, but there is a universe of difference in how it behaves. The behavior has to do with our confounded predilection for socializing. People behave very differently in large crowds than they do in small crowds or even one on one. Very different teaching strategies must be deployed for each.

Bligh’s book “What’s the use of Lectures?” identifies 18-25 minutes, based on his assesment of psychology studies, as the key breakpoint for human attention in classrooms. Whether it’s 10 or 25, why do you think so few schools or training events use these sized units as the structure for their days, or their lessons?

I don’t know why schools don’t pay attention to attention. Perhaps it is a lack of content knowledge. If I had my way, every teacher on the planet would take two courses: First, an acting course, the only star in the academic firmament capable of teaching people how to manipulate their bodies and voices i to project information. Second, a cognitive neuroscience course, one that teaches people how the brain learns, so teachers can understand that such projections follow specific rules of engagement.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Toward a Theology of PowerPoint #1

There's a lot to say about a theology of PowerPoint, but I haven't heard much from this perspective. We tend to get so caught up in the how's and what's that we can neglect the why's of what we do.

Theological discussions about visualization in worship are not new. In fact, the church has been having this argument for a long time. Back about 1200 years ago in the Greek Orthodox branch of Christianity they had a burly brawl about whether or not it was permissible to use icons (paintings of saints, God, Jesus, and the Spirit). The iconoclasts argued that by picturing God that violated the second commandment about creating an image of God.

What it came down to was a discussion of the incarnation of Jesus. The iconoclasts wanted to argue that since God is Spirit then no image can represent him. The proponents of icons pointed out that in Jesus, God willingly became flesh and therefore made himself representable. The proponents eventually won and we now have a rich tradition of icons from the Eastern church.

Does the incarnation still inform our use of images today? "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" so we could behold "the one and only who came from the Father" (John 1:14). There is power in seeing something. Being able to view how God-in-flesh lived life among us drastically changed us. Things can never be the same now that he has dwelt with us.

How do images change sermons? I believe that the appropriate and skillful use of images in a sermon can serve to incarnate the Word into the lives and minds of people. Perhaps it is a video clip showing the way that the people in your city view God. Maybe you share a painting done by one of the members of your church to show art can be worship.

What do you say?

PowerPoint for Preachers

A quick google search will show that there are not many good resources for preachers who want to use PowerPoint or other presentation resources in their sermons.

My goal is to compile as many good resources as I can on this site to help make preaching with PowerPoint better and easier for both the preacher and the church.

So, here's the first tip: good pictures are worth extra time, effort, and money. Bad (poor quality, poorly matched) pictures will distract from your sermon and cloud your point. Good pictures will clarify your point and support your sermon.

The site Presentation Zen has compiled a good list of places to go to get pictures and they specify which are free.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


It's time to reboot this blog. It's been almost 3 years since I touched this thing, and it's a little bit dusty, but I think that it can be used for a new purpose.

I'm starting to work on helping preachers to use PowerPoint and other presentation software in sermons. I want to use this blog to group-think through the process.

The topics I'm thinking about are: Practical - how to set up the technology, how to create a presentation, etc. Theological - why should we use visuals with preaching, what considerations should go along with visuals? And Informational - good presentation techniques, the history of art in the church, resources that might come in handy.

OK, here goes . . .