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Why I don’t Instruct with PowerPoint … and what I use instead

Confession: I've abandoned the use of Microsoft PowerPoint for presentations.


Here's the caveat ... some of the courses I deliver are for government clients that require a government-approved curriculum, including a government-approved PowerPoint presentation full of government-approved acronyms. Ugh.

Why PowerPoint to Begin With?

The idea behind "Death by PowerPoint" is reasonable.

  • For "John" on the East coast to receive the same educational content as "Sally" on the West coast, they must both be exposed to the same PowerPoint slides.
  • Since slides are easier to standardize than instructors, the slides are usually full of the minimum amount of content the student needs. For some agencies, all that's needed is someone who can stand in front a room and read the slides to the class. Ugh.

Many of the instructional hours I've accumulated through the years have been in the aforementioned environment. I've seen the pompous 'instructors' tell everyone how smart they are, I've seen the students leave unfulfilled, and most importantly I've seen throngs of course graduates fail to succeed with that topic in the real world.

They simply failed to translate what they were presented into actual job performance.

  • For emergency response students that leave class with a certificate but without a clear understanding of what to do, that could cost someone their life. Really.

PowerPoint is a convenient scapegoat but since you're reading this I'm sure you have similar war stories about poor instructional environments.

An Alternative

Here's what I do instead ...

I selectively distribute handouts and use dry erase boards, flip charts, or nothing at all.

Doing so allows me to interact more authentically with the participants because they are looking at me and I'm looking at them instead of both of us looking at a slide projection. And I shouldn't need to tell you the advantages of having an authentic interaction with your course participants!

Advantages of NOT using PowerPoint:

  • Focus can be on the instructor and their words/actions, not the slides
  • Easy to incorporate students into the delivery by having them write on board, etc.
  • Easy to customize content on the go
  • Less logistical support needed
  • Fewer things to break or distract
  • Harder for people to steal your content (I hate that!)

Advantages of using PowerPoint:

  • Consistent content every time
  • Easy to build handouts and course material based on slides
  • Can be a reminder of what to say and when
  • Meets basic expectations of students who expect a slide deck as a handout

As a professional instructor, you'll obviously find the system that works best for you and your students. Having recently surpassed 12,000 students in my courses, I've had many successful outcomes using only a dry erase board and wanted to share that perspective with you.

What different methods do you use other than the standard podium + manual + PowerPoint combo?

Mike McKenna

About the author

Mike McKenna is the founder and president of TEAM Solutions. He helps public and private sector leaders improve their outcomes before, during and after a planned event or unplanned crisis.

Please contact Mike via the Contact page.

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