PowerPoint®(1) is not the answer! This may seem a strange way to start an article on safety training, but if all you use is PowerPoint your training program will not be as successful as you want it to be. And, if you misuse PowerPoint your training program will not be as successful as you want it to be.

In the beginning

In the beginning there was a rock. Early man took stone chisels and tapped on rocks to draw a picture of how his tribe could get to the animals.

Then we had blackboards and chalk in school.

We had colored chalk and drew pictures — blackboards from slate, chalk from calcium carbonate, and we were ready to go. Only problem, it wasn’t very permanent.

Then came the flip chart, opaque projector and then the overhead projector.

Each one represented an advancement in technology and another method for putting your audience to sleep…

Enter the computer age and a software program known as PowerPoint. This was supposed to be the presenters’ panacea.

To help you improve your skill as a trainer, I present five tips for misusing PowerPoint. Sometimes knowing what not to do helps you understand what to do.

1) Load up the slide with information

What you did:Copy your spreadsheet to the slide. You know the one — it has ten years worth of data. The type size is only six points high, and you have to tell your audience, “I know you can’t read this but…”

What you should do: Limit your information. No more than six words per line and six lines per slide. If you need to present more information, put it into a handout. Don’t use full sentences. Use bullet points. The slides are to remind you, the presenter, what you want to talk about, not to be used to read to your audience. If more information is needed, use a handout to let your audience read the information for themselves. Having a “take-away” piece allows them to study or re-read the information again and again.

2) Use a lot of cute action

What you did:Since PowerPoint has the ability to accept action graphics, photographs and other clip art, use as much as you can find, on every page. If you don’t have enough on your disk, go to the Microsoft Clip Art and Media Page (http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?lc=en-us&cag=1) and search for more. Don’t forget to include some sounds like glass breaking or a camera clicking every time the slide changes.

What you should do: Many people are visual learners. If I asked you, “What image do you see if I say the word ‘house’?” most of us would either see the home that we now own or the home that we would like to own. However, if I asked you, “What image do you see if I say the word ‘the’?” you might see the individual letters but it does not provide you an image. Use a picture, if and only if, it helps you get your point across to your audience.

3) Use a fancy font

What you did:Use each of the 233 fonts that comes with Microsoft Office®. Use different fonts on each slide. Mix the colors, the sizes and the styles.

What you should do: Your training program, like your message, should be consistent. Select one type font for your headlines and another for your body text. Use bold only if necessary. Headline and body text should be sans-serif type of fonts, such as Arial or Helvetica. Fonts with serifs, such as Times New Roman, can sometimes be difficult to read, depending on size and viewer location.

Be careful with your use of color. Stick to one or two colors. Use the second color sparingly and only for accent. Avoid using colors that react in unpleasant ways, such as red letters on a blue background that seem to vibrate(2).

4) Use PowerPoint as a modern overhead projector

What you did:Have all of the information appear each time a new slide comes up, talk about only a small portion of the slide, but allow the audience to read the rest of the information and then pay no attention to what you have to say.

What you should do: Learn to use the “custom animation” feature. This will allow you to have one letter, word or sentence appear at a time on the screen. Having one sentence appear allows you to talk to that point. Once you click to get the next sentence to appear, you can have the first sentence disappear or just dim out. This helps keep the audience focused on what you are saying.

5) Rehearsal? I don’t need no rehearsals!

What you did:Walk into your presentation five minutes before you begin. Start to set up your computer, your projector and screen. Spend ten minutes looking for an outlet that works. Pick your computer up off the floor, because the waiter tripped over the electrical cord. Spend another 15 minutes trying to get the computer to synchronize with the projector. Then ask the audience if someone has another computer available.

What you should do: Set up your computer and projector several days before your presentation. Reread the instruction book on how to synchronize the computer with the projector. Learn how to adjust the picture level (skew) from the projector and the keystoning(3). Run through your presentation to ensure that you know how each slide will perform and what you will say.

Helpful hints

Know your audience— If you know that your audience can read English (assuming your slides are in English), don’t read the slides. Explain the information. The slides are your talking points. Know your audience’s level of knowledge and experience so that the information you present will target their needs. If they see value to your information, they will use it.

Use handouts — PowerPoint has a printing feature that allows you to print one to nine slides per page. There is a pre-formatted note style when you print three slides per page. If you need to explain information, try this: When you develop your training program, PowerPoint has an area to put the speaker’s notes, under the slide. When printed, the instructor can use this as his/her presentation notes. Instead, include the information that explains your slide that your attendees need. Use the Notes print set-up.

Use adult learning principles — After all has been said and done, lecture is the most ineffective method of conveying information from an instructor to a student. Develop exercises, tasks and activities that allow the students to learn the information on their own. Adults come to your classroom having knowledge and experiences. They want to use that to understand what you will be telling them. If you do not give them a chance, they will turn off to your message.

Here’s an idea to try. Say that you are giving a presentation on incident investigation. Why not show some photographs of either real or staged scenes. Rather than tell the audience what’s wrong, break the class up into small groups and have them find what’s wrong and why it’s wrong. They will use their knowledge and experience to learn and teach each other.

PowerPoint can be an excellent safety training tool when used properly. Remember the five misuses, or no-no’s, listed herein. Also remember that PowerPoint alone does not make an effective training program. It should be only a part of your safety training tool arsenal.


(1) PowerPoint a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation.

(2) “The Writing on the Wall,” by Julie Hill. Presentations Magazine, February 2004, pp. 37-40.

(3) Keystoning – drastic image distortion where part of the image is out of focus. Usually the top is very wide and the bottom very narrow. http://www.mcsquared. com/images4.htm

SIDEBAR: More than just data

For people to remember your message, it takes more than simply presenting data to them:

Just data: Shallowest learning and recall potential. Near zero recall.

Data + meaning of data: Improved slightly, but still stored in left brain, short-term memory typically.

Data + meaning + sensory hook: Smell, touch or seeing enhances learning (props, video, tactile, physical interaction). Learning now also is encoded on right side of the brain, improving message retention significantly.

Data + meaning + sensory + emotion: Integrating all of the above plus adding an element that connects with the emotion (i.e. personal meaningful story). Now, message retention is maximized and recall is easily accommodated.

Source: www.presentersuniversity.com