Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What's the Point of PowerPoint?

These days I'm wondering about the use of Microsoft PowerPoint in churches and classrooms.

Like a lot of you, after I first discovered PowerPoint, I was very excited about its potential for preaching and teaching. This had the capacity, I thought, to really engage a group of people, to visually reinforce a message and clarify its ideas. It didn't take me long to wake up. I had a lot to learn.

I was a later-comer to the use of this technology. So most of what I learned early on came by way of good and bad examples that I saw.

One of the first things I noticed was that some preachers were copying and pasting their sermon notes and outlines onto a series of slides. Often, a slide was filled with a lot of text in a small font. Sometimes, with his head turned away from the group, the speaker would read from the slides word for word. If you've seen this sort of combination, you know that the effect can be the opposite of the intention.

Something else I noticed was that pictures and font styles and the use of animation were not always appropriate. Sometimes it seemed like there was no appreciation for the fact that fonts have the power to set a tone and create a mood. The words and the fonts didn't match. One time, I was completely turned off when the word "death" came spinning onto the screen. The animation suggested "Happy Birthday!" not "death."

I got a taste of the good use of PowerPoint when I visited the Otter Creek Church of Christ in the Nashville area. The preacher, Tim Woodroof, used nice artwork and just a bit of text (as I remember). The projections always fit, and never overwhelmed the spoken word, which was very well prepared. Something else I noticed was that attention had been given to coordination between the sermon and slides.

When I first started using PowerPoint myself, even though I was armed with my own list of dos and don'ts, there was still a lot I didn't know. For example, a friend showed me that, when using such a large screen, I should use a white font on a dark background, as opposed to using the default black font on white background.

Over the last several years, my use of PowerPoint has improved. I've read a few articles on the subject, and every one of them taught me something practical that I needed to know or remember. You can read one such article here.

I'm interested in hearing about your experiences as presenters and listeners. A few questions:

1. What, in your opinion, are the most important things for presenters to know and do when using PowerPoint?

2. If you preach or teach, do you use it all of the time? Some of the time? Never? Why?

3. In your experience, who uses PowerPoint especially well? What factors contribute to the quality?


jim said...

It so happens that I co-wrote a book about PowerPoint and have been technical editor on a dozen more.

From my experience, the best advice for using PowerPoint is: Decide what you want to say, and then see whether PowerPoint can enhance it. If it can't, don't use it.

In other words, if a PowerPoint presentation only mirrors what you're saying, it isn't adding anything, and you should talk without it.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks for the note, Jim. I'll be getting that book soon.

preacherman said...

I preach at a small country church so we don't use it. I don't matter to them. Isn't an issue. Not relavent.

My dad's church in Abilene, Tx. Is made up of mostly older retired seniors who have a problem seeing the song books. So the elders thought it would be a great idea to get power point as tool so for the edlerly to see the words better. I has been a tramenous tool for my dad's congregation as my grandmother-in-law who struggle to see can now see the words on the screen. It has made difference. Yes, their preacher Sonny Guild does use it to preach with as well. But, they the purpose was to benfit the entire congregation not just a few. Which I think is great!

Frank Bellizzi said...


I'm a big fan of projected lyrics (including shaped notes for people who can use them).

Wade Tannehill said...


I use Powerpoint and I think the number one rule is to resist the temptation of bullet point preaching. In other words, don’t prepare a sermon to go with Powerpoint, but prepare the sermon first and then see if Powerpoint can enhance it. Sermons should be conversational and not point-by-point, allowing the text to command the structure of the sermon as opposed to an outline superimposed on the text. Which isn’t to say that I never have points or bullet points within the body of the sermon, but I usually don’t preach points.

When I don’t think it can enhance it, I don’t use it. I think with some sermons it would be more of a hindrance than a help. But I use it at least 90% of the time.

I think visual aids help most people in our culture who are conditioned by the sound bite and have technology complimenting just about everything else.

I also find that with Powerpoint, children tend to get more out of the sermon. I’ve actually got comments from children, including my own, who enjoy the pictures and get more of the message as a result.

While some are of the opinion that the sermon is not a time to “teach” but only to inspire, (a view with which I am sympathetic, but to which I do not subscribe fully) sometimes you have to pause and deal with something at least slightly complex. Powerpoint helps to simplify difficult concepts that can be seen as well as heard.

Avoid overkill. I use Powerpoint for biblical texts, quotations from authors, and during illustrations. If I’m talking about something from the news, I might have a news photo. When I was talking about the Ministry of the Word last Sunday, I had a picture of a scroll during a section of the sermon, an open Bible during another section, and a clip art pulpit at another time. When I spoke about John the Baptist the prior week, it was a picture of the Jordan river.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Wade, thanks for your feedback.

I agree that photos and different sorts of artwork can be as helpful, if not more so, than mere text.

And, I think you're right to be suspicious of a "no-teaching approach" to sermons. Yes, preaching is more than teaching. But good preaching almost always includes good teaching.

Darin L. Hamm said...

Frank, First thanks for the comments on my site.

I use PowerPoint at times but not always. I like to use it to reinforce a point so I allow the text to be on the slide while I talk.

These past few weeks it has been "What is one worth to you?" to go along with our theme.

For me it is kind of like what the President does putting up a sentence in the background. It just helps reinforce the point.

I try to keep my slides to a minimum.

Phil said...


I'm the tech guy at Otter Creek. Just to let you know, we use MediaShout and not PowerPoint. Splitting hairs, but I thought we might be precise.

Frank Bellizzi said...


I was really glad to come across your blog; found it very interesting. I'll be back. Oh, and thanks for the feedback.


I stand corrected (not the first time). Hate to admit it, but I don't know the name MediaShout. Can you tell me a little about the differences between it and PowerPoint? Are there big differences? Thanks.

Phil said...

Here's the link for Mediashout http://www.mediashout.com/

There are significant differences between it and PowerPoint. MediaShout is designed for worship and sermons. It has song libraries, specific Bible verses can be inserted, images and text cues that can be created, which is what Tim does for his sermons on Sunday mornings. You can also insert videos, DVDs, and audio files. We love using it and once you get into it, it's very useful.

Arlene Kasselman said...

Hey Frank
I am late on this conversation, but we now use EasyWorship at Central and Steven is really sold on it. You may want to talk to him one day when you meander up our way.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Phil and Arlene,

Thanks for mentioning MediaShout and EasyWorship. I'm really interested in seeing these, how they work, etc. I didn't know about these until now.

Phil said...

Next time you're in Nashville and come to Otter Creek, you're welcome to visit the tech booth and watch how it works. My email is through my blogger ID, so just drop me a line.