Why Educators Hate Powerpoint Karaoke by Anand Swaminathan

Why Educators Hate Powerpoint Karaoke by Anand Swaminathan

If we’re going to talk about why we hate something, we should probably explain what it is first. The term powerpoint karaoke may be a new one to your vocabulary but you’ve all seen it before: it’s when the presentation and the slides mirror each other. Put another way:

karaoke Or as in this meme which frequently circulates during conferences:


Once defined, I think it’s clear why educators hate this style of presentation and learners groan in frustration or develop sudden cases of narcolepsy. Why should I wake up and come to your presentation if all you’re going to do is read from your slides? Just send me the slides and I’ll review them at my leisure. I know many will defend their slides by saying that the text is there because people like to read along. This is true . . . sort of. People do like to read, they like the visual inputs. They like them so much, in fact, they will read the slides instead of listening to the speaker.

Our brains are unable to completely process auditory input simultaneously to reading. Think this isn’t true? Try reading the New York Times while watching the news at the same time and see what you recall. With the exception of some truly lucky people who can receive multiple inputs and incorporate them, we will all end up synthesizing information from one of the inputs. Additionally, the information we do comprehend will be inferior than to if we simply had one input or the other. I guess I could just close my eyes so I don’t see your slides or put in ear plugs so I don’t have to hear you both of those answers seem rude.

The phenomena of too much text, too busy graphics and too many bullet points is well established and extensively discussed in medical education. Ross Fisher, one of the champions of better presentation skills, dedicates significant portions of his P Cube Presentations blog to the topic. If we understand the issue, why does it persist? While there are likely many reasons, these are the two that I hear the most:

  1. “This is the way I do it. I’ve done it this way for years and it works.”

This group typically includes people who have been lecturing for a long time and some are regional, national or even international speakers. Many of these lecturers are excellent speakers who are engaging and inspirational but, they’re slides are old and dated. When I talk to this group about slide design and considering updating, they often don’t see the benefit to them. Overhauling slide sets takes time and effort; why change something that works? My reasoning, it doesn’t work as well as you think it does. Your skills as a speaker are working hard to overcome your slides but if you added a modern slide set, your talks would be even better. Your learners would take more away from those talks and zone out less (yes, I’ve seen learners zone out even during great lectures).

  1. “I don’t know the information well so I need the text on my slides so I know what to say.”

This is typically what I hear from residents and new speakers. Often, these speakers are assigned topics rather then having the ability to select topics in which they are both interested and knowledgeable. Here, the slides are a safety blanket. They provide warmth, comfort and security in the face of an uncomfortable situation. The remedy here is simple: preparation and practice. Build your presentation (and slides) well in advance of the date of the talk and then use the intervening time to rehearse. As you practice, you will become knowledgeable in the content and gain security in delivering the content. As you rehearse, you will learn where you are strong and where you are weak within the talk. You can hone the strong areas and remedy the weak ones with more research, reading and, of course, more practice. Early on you need the text to practice? That’s fine. Put all the text you want in the presenter notes. That’s what they’re for. As you practice, you’ll divorce your eyes from those notes because the content will live in your head but, the safety of the words is still there, just in case.

PowerPoint Karaoke is well known the world over but it’s unnecessary and, for top level educators and those who strive to get there, inexcusable. It’s time we all strive to improve our skills and leave the text behind.

Do you want to learn how to create and deliver stunning and inspiring medical presentations? Then check out the Keynotable Workshop this December 1-2. Seats are limited, so click here to register today.