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3 Ways to Improve Your Teaching Slides

01 Nov Student Ministry, Technology | Comments Off on 3 Ways to Improve Your Teaching Slides
3 Ways to Improve Your Teaching Slides

I don’t know if anyone in the history of the world ever got involved in Youth Ministry so they could work with PowerPoint.

I doubt anyone’s ever said, “I feel called to Keynote.” Nevertheless, it’s a significant part of the job for most full-time youth workers. After all, we live in a digital culture and we’re working with students that are increasingly post-literate and highly visual.

And those slides tend to be the last thing we have time to get to on Thursday afternoon (or Saturday night if we’re honest). So end up we rush through them only to have them look sloppy or campy or just plain dull. A student’s eternal salvation will never hang in the balance over the quality of your PowerPoint presentation, but it’s still worth taking some time to think about because bad slides do have an impact on first impressions and the effectiveness of our teaching.

So what can we do? Besides going out and hiring a graphic designer, what are some reasonable things that a youth pastor can do to improve their slides? With an ever-expanding schedule and an ever-shrinking budget, what can you do to improve your use of PowerPoint in youth ministry?

Today, 3 tips for improving your teaching slides…


1. Less is more… no, really. (Signal to Noise Ratio)

If you remember back to the days before HD, we all just loved trying to watch those static-y channels, precariously balancing the antenna to try and hold the signal. If there was too much static, too much noise, we’d lose our show entirely.

The same thing is true with our slides. Each slide should contain a message that you want to convey, otherwise, why even have a slide at all? The trouble happens when all of the “Extras” (clipart, graphics, backgrounds, animations, etc.) start to drown out our message. Designers call this the “Signal to Noise Ratio.” The more noise your slide contains, the more likely students will miss the message.

When there’s more noise than signal, you lose your audience.

We add images and effects to make the slide visually interesting, but without moderation, they end up taking over. Things that were added to be interesting and engaging end up only being distracting. A good rule of thumb is this: “If the message can be designed with fewer elements, then there’s no point in using more.”

To amplify your message, simplify the words.


2. A picture is worth 1,000 bullet points.

If you closed your eyes right now and tried to remember last week’s message, bullet points on a slide probably aren’t the first thing to come to mind. You might recall an example, a story, an image, but you most likely not recall the outline. If it’s true for you, how much more so for your students!

Numerous studies have shown that pictures are remembered better than words, especially when people are shown the slide for a very limited period of time. People tend to remember pictures better than text, because we’re wired and cultured to resonate with images. Images are powerful, effective, and direct. Images are memorable and often evoke emotion better than written text on a screen, and for visual learners, there’s the added benefit of speaking their language.

So if all this is true, why do we still insist on filling our slides with outlines and bullet-points? I think we tend to use our PowerPoint as our outline instead of a visual enhancement to our message. The bottom line is, while PowerPoint and Keynote can serve as powerful complements to our teaching, they can also become a crutch.

Be a merciless editor of what you put on the screen.

If you’re using text on a slide to describe something, you probably could use an image instead more effectively. If you decide to use a photo, make it big! Thumbnails don’t work from 30 feet away. Try to find high quality images and fill the slide with it. The visual impact that image will have when it’s six feet high will convey more than a dozen bullet points.

Here’s a good example:

3. Give everything on the screen room to breathe.

When we’ve got a blank slide in front of us, we all face the temptation to fill it. Every nook and cranny gets crammed with something, and our slide ends up looking like a mess – too much noise, not enough signal. What we need is more empty space.

When we fill the screen from top to bottom with text, which line is the most important? We have no idea, because it’s all the same. When I edit it all away and keep only a key word or simple phrase, everything comes into focus.

Empty Space (a.k.a. White Space or Negative Space) gives everything on the screen room to breathe. It lets our eyes “rest” for a moment as we take in the information. Empty space conveys elegance and clarity, not just emptiness. We get tripped up when we think that blank space on the slide means “nothing”, when in actually it means a great deal.

Good designs have plenty of empty space. Think “subtract” not “add”.

An important part of empty space is the idea of balance. Balance adds clarity and unity to what we’re trying to say. Instead of bouncing back and forth around the slide trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be looking at, balance points the way. In a sense, we should never have to think about where to look. It should be intuitive.


Last Thoughts

Even if you don’t feel like you have a creative bone in your body, you’re still capable of using design principles to improve your teaching. There’s a bit of a learning curve to this, but what takes some extra effort at first will soon become second-nature. An easy way to start is this. Grab a post-in note and write the following:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Give them a picture
  3. Give it space

 Tape it to the edge of your monitor, and next time you open PowerPoint to work on your lesson, give it a glance. As you learn to integrate these ideas into your work, the visual supplement to your message will become more engaging, clear, and memorable. Good luck!

Aaron Brown
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Aaron Brown is an Assistant Professor of Student Ministry at Lancaster Bible College in Lancaster, PA. He attended Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Before coming to LBC, he was the Sr. High Director at Living Word Community Church in Red Lion, PA. Aaron serves as the Project's editor and web guy.