Effectively Using PowerPoint in Your Continuing Education Training

Author: Douglas Richardson, Paramedic, BS-PSM

“People who know what they are talking about don’t need PowerPoint” –Steve Jobs

So, anyone that uses PowerPoint doesn’t really know what they are talking about? Actually, the point that Steve Jobs was making is that too many people rely on tools like PowerPoint as a way to avoid engaging with those around them. As instructors, our whole role is to engage with our learners and to drive discussion. So when it comes to PowerPoint, we should be thinking about how we can use it to help us deliver our message.

Many of you have probably heard the expression, “Death by PowerPoint.” While specific definitions may vary, I think that this phrase applies anytime we let the medium (PowerPoint) become more important than the messenger (you the teacher).

So, what does that look like in practice? Here are a few do’s and don’ts that I try to follow whenever I am creating a PowerPoint presentation:


  1. PowerPoint can supplement our lectures with visual clues. Listening to a teacher at a podium for two hours can be painful. PowerPoint allows us to add much-needed visual cues.
  2. PowerPoint can support our lectures. I have heard it said that too often PowerPoint is used like a drunk uses a lamp post, not for illumination but for a support. That is not the kind of support that we want. We should use PowerPoint to support the main idea that we are trying to get our students to understand using things like videos, graphs or pictures.
  3. PowerPoint can augment our teaching. We can use PowerPoint to make our presentation greater. For example, while it is good to talk about the conduction of the heart, it is even better when our learners can see a picture of the heart or when they can help us draw conduction inside the PowerPoint presentation. When used appropriately, PowerPoint can truly augment our lectures.


  1. PowerPoint should never do to our teaching. If a student ever says, “That was a great PowerPoint,” I feel that I have failed. What I want to hear is, “That was a great class and the PowerPoint really added to it.”
  2. PowerPoint should never be considered a replacement for an educator. If the presentation could replace the teacher, why even bother? Just send everyone a copy of the PowerPoint to your students and let them look at it at their leisure. Most of what I say during a presentation is NOT on the PowerPoint but is in my notes. Also, the truly important part of the class is not in the PowerPoint or the notes, it is the discussion that is generated in the classroom.

PowerPoint Tips

Now let’s talk about a few simple things you can do to make your presentations better:

  • Keep them simple and consistent.
  • Use page titles to make your content stand out.
  • Have a theme.
  • Use bullet points. (Just remember that bullet points should help deliver the message. I always encourage instructors to put the bare minimum in bullet points and don’t just read from the slides.)
  • Embrace white space. (If your slide is full of writing, students will be focused on reading the text and not on you.)

Helpful Rules

One guideline I like to use when creating a PowerPoint slide is 1-6-6. This means there should only be one main idea, no more than six bullet points and each bullet point should have no more than six words in it. While it may not always be possible, it is a great way to keep your presentation concise and focused.

Another approach that may be helpful is Guy Kawasaki’s 10-20-30 rule. This rule says that presentations should be 10 slides or less, only 20 minutes long, and that you should use a font size of at least 30-point. The idea is that it can be difficult for learners if we present a large number of concepts or if the presentation lasts for a long time.

We all may have our own style and approach to teaching, and using PowerPoint can be a great benefit to help our students learn the information we are presenting. Just remember to use it in the right way so that you don’t come across as someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about.

Douglas began his career in public safety as a paid-on-call firefighter with the Havana City Fire Department in Illinois. He attended EMT-Basic training in 1992 at Spoon River College where he is now an adjunct professor of prehospital medicine. He has had his paramedic license since 1994 and has been a lead instructor since 1999. During his career with the fire service, Douglas was an instructor with the Illinois Fire Service Institute specializing in rescue disciplines. He retired as a captain after serving for 20 years. While with the fire department, Douglas also worked full-time for Mason County EMS, an ALS ambulance service in downstate Illinois, as the EMS educator. Douglas received his bachelor’s degree in public safety management from Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, and is working on his master’s in public safety administration through Lewis University.

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