teaching and learning > presentations

Better slides make presentations more effective

Remember that a presentation does not necessarily involve any slides at all!

Do your slides right or not at all
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Designing slides

If you are using slideware (Powerpoint or similar) it pays to think about the design of the slides you use, assuming you want your audience to take away as much of your message as possible.
Bad design (or no design) will result in less of your message getting through.


Some key points

  • If you are not clear what your message is, the audience will be even less clear.
  • When planning a presentation start with pen and paper not the software.
  • Improving the design of your slides will usually mean cutting things out rather than adding to slide content.
  • The focus of the presentation is you, not the slides; their role is to reinforce what you say.
  • Don't try to use the same material as both presentation and hand-out.

4 features of good slide design - "CRAP"



If two features of the slide are different make this obvious. For example distinguish between title text and other text (though ideally there will be not much of the latter).

Slide with limited contrast
Slide with greater contrast
Cold water immersion & drowning 060612.png
Cold water immersion & drowning 060612 v2.png


Some part of slide design repeated throughout the presentation helps to unify it.

Example of repetition in slide design:
presentation repetition.png


Every item on the slide should have at least one edge aligned with an edge of at least one other item.
Slide with left alignment of elements
Black line demonstrates alignment
Cold water immersion & drowning 060612 alignment no line.png
Cold water immersion & drowning 060612 alignment with line.png


Grouping items on the slide aids understanding - the closer the relationship between items, the closer they should be on the slide.
dm and sa v2 proximity.png
As well as the proximity of the graphic and two "speech bubbles", this slide has contrast (different types of text), repetition (it is part of the presentation shown above) and alignment


Headlines are better than bullet points
The text you include must be worth reading; it must be visible to everyone in the audience. That means it must be:
  • big enough
  • in a legible font
  • a colour that is easy to read
  • on a background that makes it easy to read
  • using lower case letters AS LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS ARE HARDER TO READ
If you cannot read text in slide sorter view then it is probably too small for your audience to read easily when projected.
One approach is to put a "headline" as the title of each slide - this must be grammatical but fit on one line. The analogy is with a newspaper headline that is brief, makes the key point and gets attention.

If you plan others to view the presentation on line then use a sans serif font throughout. Helvetica and gill sans are simple but effective fonts.
Serif fonts, such as garamond, can work well when projected provided they are large; at low resolution they can look unclear.

If you think you need more than two fonts in a presentation you are very probably wrong; consistency will improve design considerably.

Placing text over an image can be very effective. Compare these two slides:




Images and graphics must reinforce what your message is
Remember that the reason you are delivering a presentation is because you want to impart a message of some sort (informationa, motivational etc) to others.
The graphics you use must help you to pass on your messgae rather than interfere with it.
They need to be clear and relevant.
Be cautious about including photos with faces (especially if eyes are visible) as they tend to grab the audience's attention - they will pay less attention to what you are saying.

What you say + text on slides (ideally a "headline") + graphics on slides = the message

All three elements need to be working together for an effective presentation.

Fancy animations or transitions, or slides that build sequentially over a number of steps generally confuse and detract rather than help the audience understand you. In general, the simpler the better (not convinced? when was the last time you saw an advert on TV that used builds or the sort of animations found in slideware? never - because it dilutes the message!)


Since text has to stand out against the background of a slide, beware of using a background that is a mid-tone (neither very light nor very dark) as it will be difficult to find a text colour that is easy to read. Pale colours sand out best against dark backgrounds and dark colours against pale backgrounds.



Some underused colour options for presentations:
The same colour - and white and black - is used for background, text and graphics, with the shades or tints varying to provide contrast
Colurs adjacent to each other on the colour wheel are used throughout (with black and white if needed). To highlight an element the saturation of that element can be increased.
These are colours opposite on the colour wheel (eg blue and yellow) and provide a lot of contrast (often black and/or white will be included too).
Achromatic + 1
All elements of the slide are black, white or shades of grey apart from elements being emphasised where the same colour is used throught the presentation.
Remember that members of your audience may have defective colour vision. You can check that your slide is still legible using vischeck.

Kuler can be used to generate colours, and this video shows how to save a powerpoint theme:

A good tongue-in cheek video with tips for use of powerpoint:


tips for designing slides
powerpoint and handouts
slide design
assertion-evidence structure of slides
more on assertion-evidence structure
"pimp your powerpoint"
10 tips for better slide design


Presentation Zen
Presentation Zen Design
The non-designers presentation book


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