Dynamic Training Without Death by PowerPoint

Posted: February 6, 2012 in Slide Show Design

The flip chart has become extinct in many classrooms, but it is still a flexible and useful tool for teaching. It can help you facilitate group discussions,make important points, and break the addiction to PowerPoint presentations. Slide shows can become a one-way onslaught of information that does not allow for active learning that will stick with your students.

PowerPoint’s animations, charts, graphs, and bullet points are supposed to make the most incomprehensible data crystal clear. In reality, they can create confusion regarding the most basic of information. The greatest military minds in America, and the world for that matter, were left baffled by the Afghanistan Stability PowerPoint slide. It was a mind-boggling attempt to explain the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. The only person who could have possibly understood the slide was the creator, and I question that.

General Stanley McChrystal, the US and NATO force commander at the time, remarked, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.

Most of the well known and top paid speakers avoid using PowerPoint altogether. One great example of this is Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (retired). He relies on his knowledge of the topic, presence, flip charts, and audience participation to get his point across. He is a compelling speaker because he talks about his experience, his passion, his ideas, and his understanding of the topic.

When I attended his school violence presentation, he had no notes or papers in his hands – only a microphone and a marker for flip charts.  He gestured constantly using his entire body – not just his hands. He strolled back and forth across the stage and wandered out into the audience. He constantly asked for comments from the attendees and wrote them down on one of several flip charts in the room. He earnestly conveyed his convictions and was not afraid to share his beliefs with anyone. The Lt. Colonel offers some good advice to law enforcement trainers:

“Remember, your students want a PERSON, a powerful personality, not a TV show.  Your audience could have stayed home to see a TV show or a PowerPoint presentation!” ~Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (Ret.)

The following are some of the tips, tricks, and rules that I have found useful when using a flip chart as a learning tool. I hope that they benefit you and your students as well.

  • Simplicity is the key. Do not clutter a flip chart page. Be concise and make sure your writing and drawings are legible from anywhere in the room. Use only one idea or concept on a page.
  • Take your time and write – then talk. Your back is temporarily to the class and they cannot hear you well, so wait.
  • Use block letters and make them at least 3 inches tall.
  • Draw bullet points to indicate a new item. Dots, stars, squares, or whatever comes to mind will work.
  • Use different colors to draw attention to a word or phrase.  Use a different color for bullet points and illustrations, but use no more than three complementary colors on one page.
  • Page titles should be larger than what follows below them.  Consider using a different color marker for contrast or highlight the title by drawing a box around it.
  • Leave the bottom 1/3 of the page blank so you do not have to crouch down and write on it.  If you need the space, you can lift several pages up to a position where you can comfortably write on them. You can also kneel down or pull a chair up to the easel so you can write on the bottom, but I find it easier to just leave it blank.
  • Write your notes in the top corners of each page using a light colored pencil. The audience will not be able to see the writing and it allows you to continue on without looking at your slide show, lesson plan, or notes.
  • Save space by replacing words (like money) with symbols (like $). Instead of probable cause write PC, law enforcement officer becomes LEO, disorderly conduct is DC, and so on.
  • If the flip chart is blank, you can add lines with a pencil and yard stick. Use faint lines 4 to 5 inches apart to allow for large letters.
  • Use all capital letters for your titles and lower case for everything else on the page.

There are a multitude of ways to incorporate flip charts into your presentation; these are some of the techniques you may find useful as a police instructor:

  • Flip charts should always be part of your back-up plan if the power goes out (and it will go out on you eventually).  You can quickly write down your theme and key points on separate pages and flip through them as you present.
  • Write down key phrases like “reasonable” or “primary aggressor” on flip chart pages and hang them around the room. Students can refer to these points during your topic, helping them to retain important information. You can continue adding minor points to these pages during your presentation, and connect additional terms throughout your lesson.
  • Hang blank pages on the walls when a new academy class has begun. Have the cadets write down traits they feel are important for a police officer to possess. Put the pages away until the last week of the academy, and then bring them back out. Ask your students “Have your opinions of the law enforcement profession changed?” Allow them to add to their original lists and discuss what they have learned since then.
  • Write down students responses to questions regarding your topic, but be careful not to substitute your words for the ideas they offer.  You may inadvertently change the meaning offered by them causing a rift. Ask them to give you a concise description that will fit on the page.
  • When students have off-topic questions you can use the flip chart as a “Parking Lot.”  By writing their ideas down, it shows that you are interested in what they have to say. Tell the class the “Parking Lot” will be covered if there is enough time. If not, offer to post the answers on a police forum or other social networking website.
  • Use your flip chart as a polling station on important topics.  Instead of asking for a show of hands (in which passive students do not participate), take the opportunity to ensure everyone is involved and out of their chairs.  List the question on the flip chart, and then have each student make a checkmark indicating whether they agree or not.

There are more presentation tips and resources available for trainers in the Police Instructor handbook at www.LEOtrainer.com/book.

As the instructor, you are the presentation – not the slide show. If the projector fails, your laptop crashes, or you forget the jump drive, it should not matter. You should be able to go on without it. Slides should only serve as a resource to support your presentation. What your audience needs most is your dedication to their preparation as the future guardians of justice.

“Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” ~Brigadier General H.R. McMaster

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