Presentations and lectures are effective methods for transferring information. Information is part of nearly every college class, so you expect to see some presentations and lectures in most classes. However, presentations and lectures are not effective methods for teaching students thinking skills, for helping them learn to solve problems, develop skills, or  change attitudes or perspectives. The first key in developing effective presentations and lectures is to use them only for the right purpose.


Effective Presentations

To deliver an effective presentation it is helpful to know a little bit about how we pay attention to, process, and remember information. Research about attention shows that our attention can be very focused, but it’s also limited. We can only pay attention to select things at a time and in fact multi-tasking is a myth. If we want to convey information, we first need to gain our students attention.

We also know that humans process information based on context, meaning and prior knowledge. If students have misconceptions or a lack of context, it’s more difficult for them to process new information. The more we can help students find meaning and provide them with examples and analogies they can relate to, the easier it will be for them to learn from our presentations.

The ultimate goal for our presentations is for students to remember the information. Yet humans have a limited capacity for the amount of information we can remember. A seminal study on memory showed that we can remember seven, plus or minus two, new pieces of information before we reach capacity. So cramming more and more information into a presentation, or speaking faster if you run out of time, are not methods that would result in students remembering the information.

Tips for effective presentations

So how do we develop effective presentations?

  • recognize that presentations are only effective for transmitting information and use them sparingly for this purpose
  • gain and keep your students’ attention – don’t compete with distractions and help them see where and how to focus their attention. You might visit this page about mobile devices in the classroom
  • help students discover the overall structure in the information being presented by chunking information and providing advanced organizers (outlines, visual aids, graphic organizers)
  • give students context for new information and help them make personal meaning of new information
  • find out the prior knowledge of your students and adjust the presentation accordingly
  • use relevant visuals and images to help them process and remember information
  • keep students actively involved, don’t give them the opportunity to get bored. Consider using clickers or group work for larger classes


Design Guide: Creating Effective Visual Presentations

Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides

Making Better PowerPoint Presentations