Taking Aim at Talky PPT Slides

I am actually a big fan of PowerPoint, though it has been misused and much abused. Especially when your goal is to give an informative presentation based on numerous facts, I think well-designed text-based slides are more helpful than slides that are heavy on visuals and light on words. (Still, check out this nice post by Dr. Heather Collins on the McGraw-Hill Education site. Her guidelines apply to whatever kind of show you’re building.)

But what are “well-designed text-based slides”? Certainly, the following example wouldn’t fall into this category:

Text-heavy slide

The slide comes from a talk by a team in my Writing for Business class. They did a super job of gathering their information, but they gave the visual dimension of their slides insufficient attention.  Also, they put all their points on their slides verbatim rather than using easy-to-digest bullet points fleshed out by smooth oral commentary.

I redesigned the slide to show the class how to turn it into a more visually appealing, readable slide. Here was the result:

Revised text slide

I know—it won’t win any design prizes. (If only I had Gail Cruise’s knack with visual design! If you’ve ever attended one of her presentations at an ABC meeting—which I did just last month—you know what I’m talking about!) But perhaps you can use these examples to help students see what you mean when you tell them to “add some visual interest” and say not to “put too much text on your slides.” They don’t have to be graphic designers to be able to create nice-looking informative slides.

My good buddy Paula Lentz just told me about PowerPoint’s “Design Ideas” feature, which pops up at the far right of your screen when you click “Design” on the main menu. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve seen some of her text-based slides that used this feature, and it really added a professional-looking visual touch.

What’s your relationship with PowerPoint? The opinions seem to be all over the place. We’d love to hear yours.

A Little Classroom Activity on the You-Viewpoint

It goes by various names in our bcomm textbooks: “you-viewpoint,” “you-attitude,” or even just “thinking about your reader.” But whatever you call it, it’s critical to successful business communication.

As a concept, the you-viewpoint seems easy enough to understand. But when it comes time to apply it to their writing, our students often falter. Examples can really help them see the difference between a text that focuses on the writer or writer’s company and one written from the you-viewpoint.

Below are two pairs of contrasting excerpts from business messages that illustrate the concept. My students found them useful, and I hope yours will, too.

Example 1: “Selling” a Rewards Program

The case behind this example asked students to play the role of a hotel’s customer-service representative and inform a customer that her request for a partial refund had been granted. The students were also required to use this message as an occasion to promote the Marriott Rewards program. Here are the “we-viewpoint” and “you-viewpoint” versions of the paragraph on the latter topic.


We would also like to invite you to join our Marriott Rewards program. The Marriott Reward program gives members complimentary internet access, early check-in and late check-out, points that can be used for free stays, and many other great perks.


When planning your future travels, consider taking advantage of our Marriott Rewards program. As a member of this program, you’ll receive complimentary wi-fi with every stay. Plus, you can check in online, check out late, earn free stays, and enjoy many other benefits. Just visit [link] to see how.

Example 2: Giving a Customer a Special Perk

The case behind this example asked students to represent an online car-parts business and inform a customer that the company would grant his request for free shipping (as well as a refund) on a return. The customer had ordered the wrong part because the part number on the website was incorrect. Here are the “we-viewpoint” and “you-viewpoint” versions of the paragraph that encourages him to order the correct part.


In addition to reimbursing you for the shipping of the incorrect part, we are also offering you a free two-day shipping coupon code for the Carquest Alternator – Remanufactured -130 amps that you originally requested. The coupon code is 2DAYSHIP.


You can now purchase the correct part at [link], and we would be happy to cover the shipping cost for this replacement order. Just enter the code 2DAYSHIP at checkout.

It can take a while to get the hang of imaging oneself in the reader’s shoes, but activities like this can help. Be sure to ask you students to point out specifically, in terms of wording and content, why one version has better you-viewpoint than the other. And if you’ve got the time, give them a chance to revise their messages to let the lesson sink in.

Trying to Get Real about Diversity in the BComm Classroom

School started today here at the University of Cincinnati, and if your academic year hasn’t started yet, I’m sure it will soon. What new topics or assignments will you be trying in your bcomm courses this year?

My major change will be to expand our discussion of cross-cultural communication to include communicating across different cultural groups right here in the US.  In our polarized and racially charged country, our students need, more than ever, to be prepared to work well with other Americans or US visitors who come from different backgrounds.

My Epiphany

Back in my hippie days, young people sang about the need to be “colorblind” and to ignore the color of other people’s skin. But having done a lot of reading about diversity and inclusion this summer, I came to realize, with some surprise, that that is not the view that diversity coaches promote nowadays. Such authors as Mary-Frances Winters (We Can’t Talk about That at Work!), Austin Channing Brown (I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness), and Tim Wise (Colorblind) point out that not acknowledging someone’s cultural heritage is actually a way of homogenizing everyone and thus promoting a “one-size-fits-all” attitude at odds with inclusion.

The Cross-Cultural Connection

I haven’t seen anyone in bcomm make this connection yet, but it seems to me that preparing students to understand their own cultural heritage and appreciate that of others is just as justified, and necessary, as teaching them to learn about other national cultures and avoid ethnocentrism. We are not all the same–but we still need to be able to work together civilly and productively, especially in environments where diversity is essential to solving business problems (as Scott E. Page discusses in The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams Pay Off in the Knowledge Economy).

My Modest First Step

So, my unit on cross-cultural communication this time around will have student teams researching not only norms and practices in non-US cultures but also the cultural and communication styles of different groups in the US workplace. I’ll let them pick the groups they want to learn more about, whether white women, white men, Black women, Black men, Asian-Americans, Christians, Muslims, different groups of people with disabilities, homosexuals, transgender people . . . whoever they want to learn more about.

Is there a risk of stereotyping here? Yes, there is. So, when learning about and describing such groups, the students will need to be careful to note that they’re discussing general cultural traits, not necessarily the traits of any particular individuals (just as they need to do when discussing people from other countries).

The BComm Payoffs

I think activities that promote diversity awareness (not ones that just go through the motions–which, as the literature shows, can actually make matters worse) will help our students pay better attention to the dynamics in their workplaces, be stronger team members, and communicate more effectively. I expect raising their cultural awareness will also increase their sense of fair play and enable them to help change their organizations for the better.

There are bcomm teachers out there who are way ahead of me on this! Maybe you’re one of them–or maybe you’re not, and this post will get you thinking. Either way, let us know where you are on this issue, if you’re so inclined. It feels scary to me to finally be getting explicit about “difference,” but I’m going to push ahead. I welcome your insights and resources!




Making Exam Review Fun with an “Escape Room”

Recently, I was surfing Pinterest looking for a creative way to review for an exam, and I came up several pins for escape rooms. None of them were for exam reviews (or even for use with college students), but they did inspire the idea for using an escape room as an exam review in my beginning business writing course.

The primary goal of the exam review was to reinforce concepts from the textbook’s three chapters on business correspondence (routine, good-news, or neutral messages; bad-news messages; and persuasive messages). A secondary goal was to provide a punctuation review. Students worked in groups to complete the review.

Creating the Escape Room

The premise of an escape room, in general, is that participants work as a team to use logic, answer questions, or complete a puzzle to escape their room or situation, usually in a limited time frame. For example, a scenario might be that employees are locked in a conference room by a diabolical boss who plans to abscond with company secrets worth millions unless the team stops him. The team would then have 30 minutes to save the day by finding the clues in the room that lead to the security code that unlocks the conference room.

To adapt this activity for an academic purpose, I decided that, for each chapter, the groups would need to punctuate a set of sentences correctly to get a code that they would then use to unlock that chapter’s review. Upon completing all three chapter reviews, students could escape from the classroom. The time limit was the 50-minute class period.

Creating the Code

I used the punctuation exercises in our textbook to create three sets of exercises. I color coded each exercise so I could more easily monitor each group’s progress, but the color coding is probably not necessary in a small class. Students had to work together to punctuate each sentence correctly and use the number of punctuation marks to create the codes. Thus, if students punctuated the sentences correctly, the first set of questions and the resulting code looked like this:

  1. Our company was founded on the principles of trust, honesty, and ethical business practices.
    The number of commas in this sentence: _2__
    The number of colons in this sentence: _0__
    The number of semicolons in this sentence: _0__
  2. Many companies allow employees to work from home; however, other companies question whether these employees can be productive if they are not working from the office.
    The number of commas in this sentence: _1__
    The number of colons in this sentence: _0__
    The number of semicolons in this sentence: _1__
  3. Employees who attend the training sessions will likely pass the certification exam.
    The number of commas in this sentence: _0__
    The number of colons in this sentence: _0__
    The number of semicolons in this sentence: _0_

The code to unlock the Chapter 8 review is

_2__   _0__   _0__   _1__   _0__   _1__   _0__   _0__   _0__

Completing the Review Questions

Once the students had the right code, they could unlock the 10 multiple-choice chapter review questions, which were located in Connect, the online learning platform that accompanies our textbook. The questions were taken from the chapter quiz bank and were password protected—and the password that unlocked the quiz questions, of course, was the code created by punctuating the practice sentences. If the students did not punctuate the sentences correctly, they could not access the review questions and had to revisit their punctuation. Once students accessed the review questions, they were required to earn a 10/10 on the review questions before I would give them the punctuation exercise for the next chapter.

When a group had they finished all of the review questions for each of the three chapters, they could leave class. The first group finished in just under 30 minutes; the last group finished in 50.

The escape room is adaptable to any learning environment. For example, course management systems such as D2L or Canvas allow for password-protected quizzes. If you prefer not to use digital materials, you could always have students present the code to you to get a hard copy of the review questions.

My students enjoyed the exercise. I hope yours do, too.

Do you have any creative exam review ideas? If so, please share them with us in the comments.

What Can You Learn from “The 17 Best Advertisements of All Time”?

In my email inbox recently was a link to a post on the Hubspot Marketing Blog that discussed the (arguably) 17 best ads of all time. Before you go look . . . see if you can guess what they are! And see if your students can!

This great post displays the ads and explains why the author, Lindsay Kolowich, chose each one (here, too, you can ask your class to guess why first). Taken together, they illustrate many important principles of good persuasion. Plus, in the middle of the post is a nine-step process for creating a great ad.

Students love talking about ads, and they can learn a lot from these. Enjoy!

A Class Exercise: How Do You Make Your Boss Happy?

I find myself in the fortunate position this semester of teaching Professional Writing Capstone, the culminating course for our professional writing program’s graduating seniors and MA students. In addition to doing projects for clients, we’re discussing how to make the transition from being a student to being a professional.


Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

And that’s how the topic in the title of this post came up. When a group of our advisory board members came to the class to share their advice on professionalism, one guest led off with “Make your boss happy.” Once the panel discussion was over and the guests had departed, I asked the class how they felt about this advice. More than one student said that it had rubbed her the wrong way, and I could see why: Especially nowadays, most students seek to work for organizations that embrace creativity, engagement, and the free exchange of ideas, not places that still abide by a strict, formal hierarchical structure.

And yet, unless our students plan to be entrepreneurs, they will be assuming a role in a hierarchical organization when they become employed, even if the organization has a relatively relaxed culture. They will have bosses, and their bosses will likely have bosses. So what does it mean in today’s more informal, employee-friendly workplace to “keep your boss happy”?

I asked the class to write answers to this question, as fast as they could, for about 5 minutes. Then we went around the room to hear at least one response from each student, with one student taking notes.

Here are the results:  How Do You Keep Your Boss Happy.

What do you think of this list? What answers do you think your students would come up with?

I’d recommend that you try this activity in your class. See how many of the items on our list your students come up with–and see what new ones they can add. Doing so will enable you to discuss important workplace lessons with your students–lessons that will strengthen their professional communication and help them smoothly cross that bridge from academia to the workplace.



Note to Students: Companies Can Have Ideologies as Well as Cultures

One of our graduate students and I have been busily researching corporate social responsibility (CSR) and related topics in preparation for a presentation we’re going to give at the ABC meeting in Dublin. Our reading has confirmed something that is becoming increasingly obvious: When companies become social actors and put their clout behind various social stands, their ideological dimension grows. This is a trend our students need to be aware of as they learn how to scope out the organizational contexts of their communications.

This past week, it was big news that Google fired an employee whose “anti-diversity manifesto” went public. Among the various conclusions one could draw from this news, one is that it is sometimes–maybe often?–unsafe for an employee to voice an opinion that departs from the social values of his/her company. For one thing, the opinion can go public, which can then embroil the company in a PR firestorm. But even becoming known as someone who isn’t pulling in the same direction as the company’s leadership can put one at risk professionally.

Millennials are particularly likely to support certain social causes and agitate for their employers to do likewise. According to a Deloitte study, 70% say that a company’s commitment to CSR “would influence their decision to work there,” and another study found that 73% “believe that businesses should not only take a stand about important issues, but also influence others to get involved in those issues.” They join a growing body of “social intrapreneurs,” who work for social change within and through their organizations. There’s a lot to be said in favor of social intrapreneurship–but expecting every company to welcome such values and behavior would be naive, and dangerous.

As Philip Kotler and Christian Sarkar point out, any given company’s involvement in social issues can fall anywhere on a continuum from regressive to progressive. Companies who participate in CSR are not the only social actors; many companies push back against various dimensions of CSR and promote more conservative, traditional business values. It’s imperative for a young employee, or job applicant, to be sensitive to a company’s social politics and realistic about how to communicate in that workplace. The engineer who was fired from Google accused the company of being an “ideological echo chamber.” One could argue that, to some extent, many companies can now be described this way.

We’ll be inviting those who attend our presentation to share their ideas for how to incorporate this topic into their classes. If you have some thoughts, please share them.