The PowerPoint Revolution hasn’t gone far enough

We’re in the midst of a PowerPoint revolution as more and more people take on the ideas of Cliff Atkinson and Garr Reynolds. That’s great – countless people are being saved from death by bullet-point.

But many presenters still see PowerPoint as a visual aid, as an adjunct to their presentation. A take-it or leave-it enhancement.

Here’s my proposition – PowerPoint is your equal partner in your presentation.

The evidence

My support for this proposition comes from the theory of Dual-coding. This theory was proposed by Allan Paivio. He proposed that we have two ways of processing information – a visual channnel and a verbal channel:


Paivio’s theory is supported by many research studies which show that when both visual and verbal representations are used, people both process and remember the information more effectively.

The design of e-learning applications has close parallels to the design of presentations. They’re both about transferring information from one person to another. E-learning design principles include Paivio’s dual-coding theory. We should take it into account in our presentations too.

What does this mean?

If you decide not to use PowerPoint (or any other visual aid) in your presentation, you are potentially missing out on the learning power of the visual channel. It’s like you’re driving a Porsche at 50 Kms an hour. You’re missing out.

How to use PowerPoint to exploit the visual channel?

Check out this post on application of visual-thinking to presentations inspired by Dan Roam’s book The Back of the Napkin.   

Other ways of exploiting the visual channel

It doesn’t always have to be PowerPoint. Here are some other ways that I’ve posted about in the past:

1. Word-pictures

You can paint word-pictures on the minds of your audience. Imagined visual images are also powerful. Research shows that imagined images also contributes to enhanced recall. So don’t forget the word-pictures.

2. The flipchart

The flipchart has been eclipsed by PowerPoint. In this post I compare presenting the same information – via PowerPoint or via the flipchart and explore the difference in impact.

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  1. Thanks for this stimulating article Olivia. Clear, Concise and Thought provoking and I loved the example slide. We need to keep sharing this message as so many people have only seen powerpoint as a bullet point ridden information dump. You have prompted me to think about the need to give presenters a grounding in learning styles as a rationale for using more visual channels too.

  2. Thanks Gavin. I prefer not to use the term learning styles. This is because to many people, learning styles means that some people are visual, some auditory, some kinesthetic. This is not supported by scientific evidence. The dual-coding theory says all of us are visual, all of us are verbal – we all use both channels (there will of course be variations). This is supported by scientific evidence.

    But you’re right as presenters (and trainers of presenters) it is helpful to have an understanding of the theories as to how the mind works.

  3. Dear Olivia,

    I hope it’s OK to quote you in a book I’m writing for educators! My brother (who is proofing the book for me) will love the Porsche analogy!

    Do you have a source for the brain with dual channels image? It’s wonderful and I’d love to be able to use it.


    • Hi Lynell

      That’s fine to quote me – if you can include a link to my website I would appreciate that, but I know that that’s not always possible.

      As for the image, it is an image I created using photos from Each of those individual photos I paid for. Therefore, I don’t have the rights necessary to let you use it. But you could recreate the image using your own photos. I would appreciate an attribution such as “based on an image created by Olivia Mitchell”.

      All the best with your book.


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