What do kids know about PowerPoint that we don’t?

Kristin Beck is a Writer/Editor at Office Online. She has come to regard PowerPoint as an artistic medium.

Eric Schmidt is a recent addition to the Microsoft PowerPoint User Assistance writing team. He is amazed that he now gets paid to play with PowerPoint slides. Follow him on Twitter (Schmidt_Eric)!

Searching for tips on making your presentation shine? Look no further than your local public elementary school.

Kristin: Most kids dread writing thank you cards. I know — I have two kids, and they get a lot of gifts. I recently asked my ten-year-old to write one, bracing myself for his rebuffs. Instead of the usual grousing, he brightly said, "Sure! I'll do it in PowerPoint."

Within minutes he created a thoughtful and interactive card. Beyond a mundane slide with "Thank You" in bold capitals, it was a visually interesting and beautifully designed work of art. I was stunned. I wondered, "How come kids are so comfortable with a medium that adults struggle with for years?"

Eric: Later that week, Kristin described her son's PowerPoint eCard to me. I must admit that even I, a PowerPoint guy, was impressed with the effects that Kristin's son produced.

Somehow, most working adults just don’t have those skills. In talking about how Kristin's son and his buddies are so adept at creating PowerPoint slides, we developed an idea…

The experiment: three kids, two adults, and five laptops

Eric: We asked ourselves, "What if we brought Kristin's son and his buddies together and have them show us what they can do with PowerPoint?"

Kristin: So we gathered two ten-year-olds and a twelve-year-old on a Saturday afternoon and watched their imagination and talent run wild. I must say, the kids amazed us both.

What did the kids teach us?

Curiosity is the best teacher

Kristin: When I asked the boys how they knew so much about PowerPoint, they explained that they learned the basics in computer lab at school. "After that," Sebastian qualified, "I just started messing around with it." Curiosity was the motivation; PowerPoint agility was the outcome.

Eric: We then watched the technological equivalent of "free play." Here's the process: one of them offers up an idea, and they all collaborate to implement it. From Thomas' suggestion to play a Beatles song in the background of the presentation, they chose "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which reminded them of Lucy, the Australopithecus. (They excitedly told us that Lucy was so named because anthropologists were listening to that Beatles song when they discovered her bones.)

Then they searched the internet for an image of Lucy to insert into their presentation. Meanwhile, on another laptop, Jonathan knew to go to the Insert tab to insert sounds – something I’ve struggled with in the past. To my astonishment, they were able to add a great soundtrack from their own music library in just a couple of seconds.

Kristin: There was a tense moment: The kids did an image search for "Lucy," and the browser produced some saucy pictures of ladies, presumably also named "Lucy." With blushing cheeks, they added "australopithecus" to the search, and there was our Lucy. Seeing her picture in the presentation led them in search of a diamond to put into the "sky" background. After some debate about what diamonds should look like, they agreed on an image, copied it, and scattered the copies around the background of the slide.

Eric: Still unsatisfied with the effect, they then animated all of the diamonds to look like they were twinkling, all choreographed with the song.

Final thoughts: On point

Kristin: Admiring their masterpiece, we asked the boys why they think this program is called "PowerPoint."

Sebastian suggested, "It's because you point at the screen."

Jonathan disagreed: "I think the power comes from NOT having to point."

Thomas added, "It helps the presenter stay interested and on point in their own talk. I don't like it when people read ahead and then seem bored.”