Effective Slide Formats

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Effective Slide Formats

It's important that you keep your audience's attention. If you make it hard for them to see your slides, their mental load will be high, and you'll lose their attention quickly just because of the burden you're inflicting on them.

Slide Text

This leads to a number of things you should do to insure that they can read your slides easily. You'll find that at times this won't be easy because, ultimately, slides don't have much "real estate" to contain the content you want to present.

The most important single item is NOT to use English sentences. There just isn't enough room to do that. Instead, use short phrases that you can paraphrase into a sentence when you're actually giving the presentation. Using complete sentences on a slide has many pitfalls. First, you'll be able to put very little material on the slide because of all the words. Second, you'll have a tendency to just read the slide. The audience is perfectly capable of reading themselves, so you'll end up boring them by just repeating material they can already see. By using phrases, you'll still give them highlights that will allow them to follow your presentation, but the verbal material you present will have "value added" and give them something to listen to. By using phrases, you also avoid too much detail, allowing you to tailor what you actually say based on what the audience seems to find interesting. If you think about it you'll realize that you've experienced this yourself every day. When you see a document with relatively few words, you realize that it's going to be easy to read. When you see a page of solid text, you know it's going to demand more of your attention, and that you'll probably need a few breaks to get through it. Unfortunately, with a presentation there usually aren't any breaks, so don't tire your audience by giving them a heavy reading assignment.

Similarly, you don't want to make your slides hard to read by making the text small. PowerPoint intentionally uses a large font size to help make your presentation easy to read. However, many presenters try to put too much on the slide. PowerPoint assumes that you know what you're doing (a very rash assumption with most presenters) and starts reducing the font size automatically to make everything fit. To avoid this problem, there are several things you can do. First, when you're putting text on the slide, you'll see the text box. If you suddenly see a box with two arrows at the bottom of the text box, it means that PowerPoint is reducing the font size unless you find a way to give it more room. You should avoid this. Second, a rule that presenters have used for many years is to have no more than eight test lines per slide. Admittedly, this isn't much (and is an excellent reason for using phrases to make those eight lines count!), but it minimizes the reading load on the audience and also maintains a large font size.

One way to make sure your text is large enough is to put a slide up on the screen and then go to the very back of the room. If you can easily read it, you're in good shape. If you have any trouble at all, make the text larger. Remember that many people in your audience may not have vision that's as good as yours, and you want to hold their attention as well, so make it easy for everybody.

Use of Color and Background

When you're giving a presentation, you're typically using a video projector in a darkened room. Because of this, the background of your slide tends to "bleed into" your text. Therefore, you shouldn't use a text font that has skinny letters. This is where PowerPoint makes an unfortunate choice of the default font for you: Times New Roman. The PowerPoint developers made this the default to be consistent with other text systems like Microsoft Word. However, it tends to make slides difficult to read. Much better choices are fonts that have thick letters, with two very good choices being Arial and Tahoma. PowerPoint has a large variety of fonts to choose from, so feel free to experiment until you find a font that's easy for the audience to read on a projector, and that you're comfortable in using as well.

PowerPoint is used for many purposes. Technical professionals typically use it for detailed presentations, like the ones you'll be giving for most of the term in EG1003. However, it is also used for marketing presentations, trade show kiosks, and many other purposes. For some of the presentations, use of unusual fonts or a large number of fonts may be a good idea, but for a technical presentation like you're giving, it's usually a poor idea. Use one or two fonts that are pleasing, but don't have a distracting amount of "glitz". For example, one time I had to give a marketing presentation for a new product. The title of one of my slides was "This product is really hot!" To emphasize the point, I used a font where the letters appeared to be on fire. The audience was amused, and it kept the presentation light, as it was supposed to be. However, I would never have used this font in a technical presentation.

Using the proper background on your slides is also important. PowerPoint comes with a large number of slide layouts and backgrounds, and even more are available by looking on the Web. Keep in mind, again, that PowerPoint has a very wide range of uses, and many backgrounds are not appropriate for a technical presentation. Either use no background at all, or one that is appropriate to the material you're covering. For example, a background of a sunset on a tropical island will be distracting to the audience, and you'll lose them as they start daydreaming about how they'd rather be anywhere else than listening to you. Since you'll be putting your text on top of the background, you should also choose one that does not have a heavy patter and has a good contrast with your text. The background should also be easy on the eyes. Similarly, the text should be easy to read. A good color combination is yellow text on a blue background, although there are many other combinations.

Keep in mind that human eye is particularly sensitive to green. Using a bright green background will be very hard on the eyes of the audience. Ultimately they'll start averting their eyes to avoid the pain, and you've lost them. If you want to use a green background, use a dark green with light lettering.

Contrast between the background and your text is important. Backgrounds that use a "wash" that transitions from a light color on top to a dark color on the bottom (or vice versa) almost guarantee that some part of the slide is going to be unreadable.

Using text with different colors can be an extremely effective way to make a point. PowerPoint takes advantage of this by automatically making the title of your slides a different color than the main text. Color, font, and use of bold letters can help to emphasize a point and draw the audience's attention to it: This is really important! However, it is important not to overuse these techniques. Slides that look like an Easter Egg confuse the audience – they don't know what's important on the slide. Help them by using these techniques sparingly.

When you're using color, be careful. Colors tend to "shift" when they put on a screen by a video projector, compared to what you'd see on a PC screen. Because of this, be sure to use material that has a high contrast. That way, the reduction of contrast by the projector will still lead to a good result. Also, try to avoid using pastel shades. They tend to get much lighter, to the extent that they disappear on a video projector and probably look like a dirty white. If you can, run through your presentation on a video project before you actually give it to make sure that it's the product you want to display.

Graphics

A presentation that consists of nothing but text tends to be boring, and will lose the audience's attention. Adding graphics to a presentation can help to reinforce points that you make, and also keep the audience's attention. It can help you in keeping the presentation brief, since using a picture can replace a great deal of verbal description of something.

The first type of graphic use can use is clip art. Clip art is a cartoon of something that you can add to a slide to make it more attractive. For example, a slide that talks about money could include clip art of a stack of coins, or a packet of paper money. There are two primary things to keep in mind when using clip art: (1) is should be relevant to the text material on the slide; (2) it should support the text, but not be so overwhelming that people are not paying any attention to the text. The stack of coins described earlier is a good case. It's relevant to a slide that talks about money or finance, but doesn't require a lot of attention from the audience. A picture of a scantily clad model would be the wrong thing to use. First, it's unlikely to be relevant to the presentation, and the audience will be so busy ogling the picture that they won't be paying any attention to you.

When you're describing something, it's always a good idea to show a sketch or picture of it if at all possible. That way, you can discuss features of your design with the audience actually looking at it, rather than increasing the mental load on the audience by having them trying to visualize it on their own. By using pictures, you can show what you want to, and make sure the audience understands what you want them to understand.

Pictures are easy to include.Digital cameras usually provide a format that's compatible with PowerPoint. You should experiment with a digital camera taking pictures, and then storing the image in various formats PowerPoint can accept. All of them involve some sort of tradeoff between maintaining detail and the computer storage size of the image. One of the most popular is the JPEG format, identified by a PC file extension of JPEG or JPG. This format has a good tradeoff between compressing the image to save disk space, but still maintaining an acceptable level of detail.

If you have a sketch or other type of document, it is usually easy to find a way to scan the document and produce a JPEG file, so you can include it in your presentation. Frequently you'll want to show your audience the "as designed" idea for a product (which will typically be a sketch) versus the "as built" version that was actually produced (which will typically be a picture).

Identification

When you have pictures in your presentation, you will frequently be discussing some highlight on the picture. Once again, you don't want to have the audience being distracted trying to find the place on the picture that you're discussing. This is easily solved by using a caption outside of the picture (called a Text Box in PowerPoint) that contains text explaining the highlight and an arrow from the caption to the item in the picture that you want to point out. For example, you might have a design that makes use of a special form of tank tread. Having a picture of the design with a caption of "Tread" and an arrow to the special tread will greatly help the audience understand what you're discussing, and see why it's important.

Final Review

Once you've prepared your presentation, you should review it several times. The first time, go through the presentation silently looking for inconsistencies and other errors. Next, go through the presentation again, out loud this time. Problems that sneak by a quick reading become much more obvious when you're actually saying the presentation verbally. Finally, give the presentation itself as if an audience was present. If you can, use a video projector and screen. If you can't, just use the computer screen. This way you can check for completeness and timing. This last step is called a "dry run", and is one of the most important steps in preparation. By having a dry run, you will be comfortable when you're actually giving the presentation since you've given it before. Note any problems and fix them. If there are extensive changes, do another dry run until you're practiced what will ultimately be the actual presentation you'll be giving to the audience.

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