Indian B-School Prof: Why I Stopped PowerPointing & Started Talking To My Students

A professor at Malaviya National Institute of Technology-Jaipur says she has learned the benefits of talking more to her students and using PowerPoint less. Photo by Social Media Cell, Department of Management Studies, MNIT Jaipur

I have been teaching for almost a decade now in different MBA programs in India. The growing use and abuse of PowerPoint, or PPT as it is popularly called, has created problems for the students and teachers. While at the beginning of my career, it seemed to be a fantastic tool to help survive a two-hour lecture, eventually, it started making me lousy and uninteresting. I explain the reasons ahead.

Disclaimer: The context here is an MBA classroom. I am not the World’s Best Teacher, although I bought a trophy for the same from Amazon last week. This is based on my personal experience; others may not agree.

ON JOINING ACADEMIA

In my sixth grade, I froze on stage during an ex tempore competition, which scarred me for life. I still feel anxious before any public speaking event, thinking, “What if I forget?” Ironically, for the last 10 years as an academic, my core job has been like public speaking — delivering lectures and seminars.

So, how did I survive? I will share in this article.

During my college days, I would spent three to four days preparing for a ten-minute presentation. I had a good command of language and clarity of thought inherited from my father, and I could fake confidence well. So, I would diligently prepare a script and learn everything by heart. The outcome was usually excellent.

Back in 2008, we did not use PPT extensively. In the decade that followed, it became a norm. My father, who has also been my teacher, and his colleagues felt outdated for not using it.

In 2014, I joined academia, and from ten minutes, the duration of my presentations increased to two hours. It was challenging. I got married the same year. So, I was building a foundation in both my personal and professional lives — committing mistakes and learning. While my family was the most vital support in my personal life, PPT came to my rescue on the professional front.

Ritika Mahajan, assistant professor in the Department of Management Studies at MNIT Jaipur. PPT, she says, “has been misappropriated as an aid for the speaker to speak rather than an aid for the audience to understand.” Photo by Social Media Cell, Department of Management Studies, MNIT Jaipur

THE FIRST FEW YEARS

At the beginning of my career, PPT seemed very useful. Besides providing structure and flow, the slides could be used to show pictures, charts, equations, calculations, and other graphics. I mainly referred to prescribed textbooks and online sources for content.

After I went into classrooms day in and day out, I started assimilating knowledge from various sources, including news, reports, videos, interviews, research papers, and observation. One thing that changed drastically with time was my perspective about using slides, because what initially helped me eventually made me lousy and uninteresting.

THE CHALLENGES

PPT is a visual aid. However, I feel it has been misappropriated as an aid for the speaker to speak rather than an aid for the audience to understand, especially when loaded with complete sentences and entire paragraphs with the speaker ending up reading verbatim. There is quite a temptation to copy and paste the content as a beginner. One also ends up using wrong font sizes, mismatched colours, and bizarre backgrounds.

But I faced some more significant challenges, too.

To begin with, the attention span of my audience was very poor — only 12 and 8 seconds for millennials and Generation Z, respectively. Further, it was challenging for them to listen and read simultaneously. This is not surprising. Brain scans show that people swiping their phones cannot hear others talk.

From my end, looking at the slides more than the audience and sometimes showing my back reduced engagement. Unless and until there was a visual to explain what I was saying, these were not very useful. Also, the number of slides or expectations about the next slide made some students anxious. A few restricted themselves and stopped reading anything beyond the slides.

WHAT DID I CHANGE?

When I used PPT in every class, my students started believing that they could not speak without it. This is not true. In fact, by using PPT extensively, I realized three things.

First, my students felt engaged when I talked to them, looking into their eyes without any distraction. Second, they forgot numbers and facts which I showed them but remembered stories, and I had to do the storytelling myself. Third, the best speeches in the world have been delivered without PPT. A Harvard study even reported that PPT dilutes individual branding.

I am not against audio-visual aids; I have come across several wonderful teaching aids during the pandemic. But I feel there is a difference between using, overusing, and abusing. As I reduced PPTing and started talking to my students, I felt the joy of learning amplified in the class. It was challenging but rewarding. I still feel anxious, but each class is like my ten-minute presentation and a teeny-tiny victory for me to celebrate at the end of the day!


Ritika is an assistant professor in the area of General Management and Strategy at the Department of Management Studies, Malaviya National Institute of Technology-Jaipur, India. She has a Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee. More details on her website here https://ritika.stck.me/. 

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