Text and Graphics in Multimedia Presentations

My presentation design has been greatly influenced by Nancy Duarte’s book slide:ology and Garr Reynolds, the author of Presentation Zen. I have integrated their ideas in both my conferences and instructional presentations. Their advice has dramatically changed my practice from bullet points to slides that are more graphically oriented with much less text.

Both Duarte’ and Reynolds are focused on business presentations, whereas I am interested in instructional presentations. Reynolds talks about the importance of graphics as mnemonic devices that help retention of ideas. I wonder how these ideas would apply to an instructional presentation and how research should inform my practice. Having applied their ideas, I know my presentations look a lot better. I know the students enjoy them more, but I am not sure that the instruction is more effective.

In the first chapter of Presentation Zen, Reynolds quotes University of New South Wales Professor John Sweller saying, “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.” He discusses this point in some detail in this blog post. He also quotes Professor Richard Mayer, author of Multimedia Learning. These have been the starting points of my inquiry.

I have found several papers authored or coauthored by Mayer. I have since purchased a copy of Mayer’s Multimedia Learning and Efficiency in Learning coauthored by Clark, Nguyen, and Sweller.

Mayer creates a cognitive model of the standard text bullet point presentation as shown below.

Illustration based upon Mayer’s Multimedia Learning p. 124

Mayer contends that using both spoken and written text in a presentation overloads the visual channel and interferes with the processing of the picture. My personal experience is that trying to listen to a speaker and read the printed word on a slide is very distracting. Mayer refers to this a the redundancy principle:

…eliminating redundancy is a useful way to reduce cognitive load. We refer to this result as a redundancy effect: Students understand a multimedia presentation better when words are presented as narration rather than as narration and on-screen text.  (Mayer & Moreno 2003)

Mayer asserts that the best approach is to use spoken words directed toward the auditory channel and pictures and animations for the visual channel.

Illustration based upon Mayer’s Multimedia Learning p. 124

This approach provides two sources of sensory processing without overloading either channel. Mayer refers the superiority of of simultaneously using words and pictures than just words as the multimedia principle (Mayer 2009 p. 223). More specifically, he speaks of a modality principle asserting that, “People learn more deeply from pictures and spoken words than from pictures and printed words” (Mayer 2009 p. 200). Using spoken words with pictures avoids the redundancy effect.

This is a rudimentary description of part of the theory behind some of the best selling books on presenting. I am reading Mayer’s Multimedia Learning and look forward to reflecting upon my instructional presentations. His book outlines eleven principles which, at first glance, are likely to help optimize my practice.

The work of Duarte and Reynolds have been a great starting point and have helped me hone my craft. I believe that classroom practitioners can benefit by digging deeper and exploring into this area of research. I plan to share my thoughts as I read more. I look forward to your thoughts.

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  1. Michael Russo’s avatar

    Steve, I like how you fleshed out your ideas here. The concept of simpler presentations focused on graphic images makes sense, and is very refreshing. Presentations really are still oral presentations, supported (or better yet enhanced) by slides, and not the other way around. How about a simple rule: not one word on any slide in a presentation! I’m going to challenge myself to that one…

    1. Steve’s avatar

      Hi Michael–

      Glad you got something from this. I am planning a long series of posts on this body of research on multimedia learning over the summer. I will tie it up into a presentation on digitizing lessons at NYSCATE this November (providing they accept my RFP proposal).

      Not one word on any slide? That’s quite a challenge! Last year. I challenged myself to make 2 presentations at NYSCATE without any bullets (even these guys say bullets are okay in certain circumstances). Text in instructional presentations is something I am struggling with. Mayer, Sweller, and Clark have some interesting guidelines for judicious use of text that I plan on going over soon.

      Stay tuned!

    2. Jeff’s avatar

      Hi Steve,

      You’re my hero! I have given presentations on presentations for several years. On of my suggestions for people starting out is that they read pages 49-54 of Andy Goodman’s book available for a free download here. http://tinyurl.com/rdsky He also mentions Garr and Nancy’s books, which were added to our library at my request. I formally requested permission from Andy to copy just those pages to hand out in my presentations, which was enthusiastically granted.

      A tougher nut to crack are those who started out on the wrong foot and continue to bore. (;

      Keep up the good fight!



      1. Steve’s avatar


        Thanks for the kind words and the great link. I look forwards to perusing Goodman’s book. If you haven’t checked out my other posts (related posts above), I invite you to do so.

        I plan to continue reading about effective presentations and multimedia, then blogging my findings. This is to prepare for a presentation on digitizing instruction at a November conference (pending approval). I have gotten a lot of Richard Mayer’s and Ruth Clark’s books.

        So much of this is oriented toward marketing and training. I want to bring this research into classroom practice. Many teachers are using multimedia. It’s important that they learn to do so well.

        Glad you stopped by!


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