Use Black to Bring Them Back

There are times during a lecture when you really want the undivided attention of your students. Maybe you're about to reveal some important information about the upcoming exam, or a change in the homework assignment, for instance. Or, as Brant Choate at suggests, you may want the students to participate in a classroom discussion. But you may have noticed as he has, that "when slides are being shown, there is a subtle but powerful emotional response that will prohibit students from wanting to participate" or pay attention. This coincides nicely with the Brain Rule on Attention – "We don't pay attention to boring things." Our brains can only pay attention to one thing at a time, and it usually chooses to pay attention to the thing that is more interesting. I think you can agree that anything is more interesting than a blank, black screen.

[caption id="attachment_377" align="alignright" width="240" caption="A blank slide like this one can pull students' attention away from the slides to focus on you."]Image of Black Slide using Keynote or PowerPoint[/caption]

A simple trick in PowerPoint or Keynote can help refocus your students' attention on you – turning off the slides. Yep, that's it. If you want students to pay attention to YOU, force them to stop paying attention to YOUR SLIDES, just by turning them off. This doesn't mean you have to exit the program or shut down the projector, though. Here are 2 quick and easy ways to blank the screen during your lecture.

The 'B' Key

In both PowerPoint and Keynote, pressing the 'B' key on your keyboard will make the screen go black. (Alternatively, the 'W' key in either application makes the screen completely white.) To return to your slides, press any key. Many presenter remotes (such as the Targus Presentation Remote) have a dedicated button to blank the screen, allowing you to blank the screen without having to be stuck at your computer behind the lectern.

Insert Black Slide

If you are preparing a lecture ahead of time and anticipate a moment that requires the students' attention, insert a blank, black slide. (To be clear, any layout will appear blank when presented, unless you have inserted text or other objects onto the slide. I prefer to explicitly choose the Blank layout to avoid any confusion while creating the slide deck.)

To do this in Keynote:

  1. Insert a new slide.
  2. Change the Slide Layout to Blank Slide.
  3. Change the Theme to Black.

To do this in PowerPoint:

  1. Insert a new slide.
  2. Change the Slide Layout to Blank
  3. Change the Slide Background to Black and be sure 'Hide Background Graphics' is checked.

Screen shot of PowerPoint