Creating an Engaging Presentation for the Online Classroom

by Staff Writers

There are general guidelines for creating a PowerPoint presentation for a face to face audience – don't put all of your content on the slides, don't read the slides to the audience, don't turn your back on them, etc. Basically, don't treat them like they're dummies, and don't put them to sleep. But none of these (aside from not treating your audience like dummies and not putting them to sleep) are relevant for creating presentations for your online classroom. Unless you are using a virtual whiteboard program, you won't even be present when your students are accessing the presentation. This means that simply taking an existing PowerPoint and posting it online isn't good enough, as learners need guidance in understanding the complexities of the information, and only the instructor can provide that guidance. So how do you put PowerPoint (or any other presentation tool) to good use in an asynchronous, distance education classroom? Follow these basic guidelines:

  • Planning
  • Narration/performance
  • Using the power of the medium
  • Applying color and design


Creating a presentation for your online course is an exercise in developing a multimedia project. As with any production, you will need to plan thoroughly to make it successful. Some things to consider in your planning are:

  • Who the intended audience is – A careful consideration of the prior subject area knowledge of your students should be a part of any course design. Be sure to make use of that knowledge in the design of your presentation by referring back to prior knowledge or comparing new concepts to familiar ones. You won't be present to make these connections in person, so careful consideration in the planning phase is very important.
  • Use compelling, informal examples – One thing you may do without realizing it in a face-to-face classroom is employ stories, anecdotes, and other informal examples to help personalize the learning for the students. Sterilizing your online presentation of these devices will hurt the students' ability to relate to the issues being discussed and turn off your learners.
  • State clear objectives – One of the keys to crafting an interesting production is to keep it brief with a tightly focused presentation with clearly defined objectives. Consider making several smaller presentations for students that can be accessed on a "just-in-time" basis. Identifying 3-5 key takeaways or objectives for each mini presentation is an excellent way to keep your focus and to provide information in manageable chunks for students.
  • Incorporate interactivity –Today's technology allows you to create learning presentations that can be more engaging than face-to-face classroom presentations, where students are often stripped of their individuality. In an online presentation, you have the opportunity to engage each student personally with the material. Adding video and audio to the slideshow is only one way to include interactivity. Consider creating an easy hyperlink quiz in PowerPoint that each and every student in the class can complete. Here's how.

Providing narration for your virtual presentation allows you to clarify, guide, explicate, and emphasize content on the slides. The rule for any presentation still holds true online; the slides are there to support the presenter, not to replace you. Easily digestible facts (bullet points), figures, and images are all that should appear on the slides. They are the bones and your narration provides the meat and substance of the presentation. The narration is one of the carryovers from face-to-face teaching that you will want to employ. After all, when you are not physically present, having an engaging spoken demeanor is more important than ever. While you don't necessarily need to be a trained actor to create engaging narration, you should also not be a robotic script reader when recording it. Watch the voices behind the Toy Story characters and see how engaged they are while recording their voices:

Again, you don't have to be a professional voice actor to be engaging. Pretend to talk to your audience as you would in class, or, better yet, record an actual classroom presentation of yourself and include that audio (or, if you are more tech savvy, link up the video with your presentation). If this option is not available or you only teach online, invite a friend to sit through the presentation so you'll have a better feel for speaking to an audience. At the very least, force yourself to sit and critically listen to the completed narration.

To create the narration in PowerPoint, for example, you can record an audio track for each slide and export your presentation as a Windows media video, which includes the narration, transitions, and any annotations you have added to the slides. Here are the Microsoft directions for adding annotations to your slides and recording narration.

Use the Power of the Medium
A presentation conveys the visual portion of your message. It is not a vehicle for disseminating text. If you want to hand out your lecture notes, use a text document with one or two pictures added, but your PowerPoint show should be just that – a show. Put one on for your students using images, charts, diagrams, animation, sound, video, and interactivity. Don't get carried away though, and make sure that the media you include are clear and easily interpretable. After all, they are intended to clarify and enhance your narration. This video demonstrates the ways in which PowerPoint can be used to create a great interactive visual presentation:

Use Color and Design
As the previous video demonstrated, adding color, design, and some interactivity to your presentation can turn a boring presentation into a fun and visually interesting multimedia experience. While it is unlikely that you will have the time or inclination to create the sophisticated graphics shown in the video, there are some relatively straightforward things that you can do to make your show pop. Effective use of color and fonts are an easy way to make a presentation more professional and appealing. This SlideShare presentation contains a great overview of how to effectively use color and fonts in creating a PowerPoint show:


While these ideas for creating engaging online presentations can't do the work for you, they can help inspire you to move beyond the basics and begin crafting tightly-focused presentations that will motivate your students to learn. And as with all technology, the best way to learn to do something is to roll up your sleeves and play with the tools. Get going on creating your first dazzling presentation and share a link to it in the discussion section below.


Image: sheelamohan /