Slides are Your Visual Soundtrack

I love movies. I can’t say that I’m a movie buff – I haven’t even seen the Godfather yet – but I am fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes of movie making. While watching The Oscars this past January, I was intrigued by a segment on sound – sound effects, sound mixing, musical score, etc. It was shocking for me to realize how much work goes into a part of the movie that is frequently taken for granted. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="500" caption="Ben Turpin & Charlie Chaplin"]Silent movies, like those from Charlie Chaplin, entertained without sound[/caption]

Movies are primarily a visual medium. In fact, film survived for many years as silent features without any sound at all (another testament to the dominance of the visual centers of our brain). Later, a piano accompanied the movie, then soundtracks, and eventually synchronized dialogue in the late 1920s. Music and sound were essential to communicating the atmosphere of a scene and influencing the emotions of the audience.

Presentations have an inverse relationship to movies. The lecture is primarily an oral medium of communication. Slides should serve as a "visual soundtrack" to the presenter.

A teacher who is prepared should be able to give a lecture without relying on slides, just as old silent movies were able to stand on their own. Indeed, a gifted teacher doesn't rely on notes or any sort of script, but teaches according to the preparation of the student. Of course, in today's academic world, preselected principles must be taught within a given timeframe, so how can the idea of a visual-track aid in preparing lecture slides?

Use images as a visual cue to the lecture material

Visual Cues – Composers use musical cues to prepare the audience for what is happening on the screen – a sharp, dissonant forte from the strings when Jaws attacks from the water; a light legato during a romantic scene; or a triumphant crescendo during the climax of the movie. Your slides can be visual cues for your students to help them know what is coming next. You might show a fullscreen image of body builders before detailing actin and myosin, the molecular components of muscle fibers, for example. Or use an image of a juicy, charbroiled cheeseburger when you discuss the principle of caloric intake in your nutrition course. Also, changing the design theme is one way to signal when you are moving on to the next chapter.

Emotion – The music in a movie greatly enhances how the audience feels about the characters and story. Choosing images that evoke emotion – a crying baby or laughing teenager, for instance – can aid in your students' retention. According to Dr. Medina in Brain Rules, "Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories." This is one reason bullet points are so ineffective – nobody cares about lists! Instead of listing the masterpieces you'll discuss in Art History, begin with a clip from The DaVinci Code which introduces the paintings and the meaning behind them. Give students a reason to care!

Template – The slide design you choose for individual slides can say a lot about the content. A Title Slide has centered text in a large font, suggesting this is the beginning of a new, important topic. Differentiating itself as a subtopic, another slide may have a smaller title at the top with space for text or images below it. You shouldn’t always use the built in templates, but keep title slides consistent with each other by using the same font size and text placement.

Transitions – Just as musical scores offer both subtle and dramatic effects, the transitions you choose can help your students know when you’re moving on to another topic. Simple transitions such as Dissolve or Fade are barely noticeable and help the students stay focused on the content. More elaborate slide transitions, such as Doorway, Grid, or other 3D effects make it clear to your students that something is changing. While these transitions can be distracting and should be used very sparingly, they can help emphasize to your students that you are ending one discussion and moving onto a new topic.

I could go on and on with the analogy of using a visual soundtrack to prepare your slides. I’m sure future posts will carry on with these ideas. Think of your slides as a simple visual complement to your teaching. Get creative. This will aid your students in keeping pace with the lecture and in recognizing the context of the material.