To enter the thinking about slides/visual support, the short, silent video below shows four simple slides containing information about presentation slides. The text beneath goes into a lot more detail.
The visual support you use in a presentation is just as important as the spoken component, since many people will pay as much attention to your slides as to your talk itself. Therefore, care should be taken to make the slides help you communicate your main ideas and visually represent complex information in a manner that is easy for audiences to comprehend.
In the box below, there are some key points to keep in mind when creating your presentation slides. More detailed information about organisation, timing, style choices and interacting with your slides can be found further down the page.
Include a title for every slide. This way, you can let audiences know what is important about a visual. Also, if someone’s attention wanders, they will still be able to understand the main point of your slide.
Be clear. Make sure to label your x and y axes clearly on graphs and tables. Also, indicate units of measurement (e.g. centimeters, degrees Celsius, type of currency, joules).
Consider the size of your visuals. If the visuals are too small, they will not serve any helpful purpose because they will not be seen in detail. If they are so big as to not allow space on the slide for a title, audience members can more easily lose track of your emphasis.
Break up complex images. If you have a large schematic or other complex image, it is helpful to show the large image first, then show the section of interest by itself. If there are several such sections, each can be isolated on its own slide. Remember, if a large quantity of information is on the screen at once, viewers will not know where to look. Extraneous information draws attention away from what is important.
Use colour or shapes to highlight key pieces. If you want to draw viewers’ attention to a particular element of a table, figure, or image, use a coloured circle or band of highlighting to guide their eyes.
N.B. Some visualisation of the above points is coming soon!
Careful: try not to create slides to accommodate your notes nor use slides as actual notes. The former can lead too too many slides and the latter to excessive text on slides.
Remember to proofread. The text on tables, graphs, and other visuals needs to be proofread carefully. In particular, check that you have correctly placed currency symbols (the dollar sign, Euro sign, and pound sign, for instance, should all appear before the numerical amount), and ensure that English punctuation appears in numbers (i.e. use a period as a decimal point to express amounts such as €1.4 million, $2.9 billion USD, and other fractional amounts).
When planning your slides, consider the purpose of the presentation.
- How can you visually represent vital pieces of information? Carefully consider whether a table, chart, schematic, or other figure would best help the audience.
- What do you want your audience to remember? Having a clear “take-away message” will help focus the information that you present (and allow you to avoid discussing unnecessary details).
- How can you return the attention of audience members whose attention wanders, or help daydreaming audience members re-join the flow of the talk? Ensuring that all slides have titles, including main points and key pieces of evidence, and presenting information in its simplest form will help keep the audience’s focus.
Slides that can help give the visuals structure include:
- A title slide (with the name of your talk as well as the names of all presenters)
- An agenda slide (that provides the key sections of the talk before you present your information)
- A summary slide (at the end, to remind viewers of the key points you need them to remember)
If you are giving a short presentation (e.g. less than 8 minutes), you might choose not to include an agenda slide. However, you should still have a very clear sense of the presentation’s organization, and it is advisable to let your audience know what is planned by at least giving an oral overview of what the talk will contain.
When planning your slides, make sure that you also set aside time for proofreading. Misspellings and grammar errors can detract from otherwise well-made slides.
Timing & coordination
When displaying your slides, timing matters. How? Timing is important in that:
- What you say should complement your slides. Reading aloud the information on your slides verbatim is not ideal, and tends to lull audiences into listlessness. Instead, create slides that enhance the oral portion of the presentation, which means that the slides should help the audience
- Receive an overview of what is being said, or
- See a visual that clarifies what is being said.
- Slides should not be changed too quickly. If a slide is displayed for less than approximately 45 seconds, the audience will not have sufficient time to see what is there.
- Slides should not be changed too slowly. If a slide is on screen for more than approximately one minute, the audience’s attention is more likely to wander.
Always think of the audience when designing slides, and use of the goal of enhancing audience understanding when you create your slides. Slides should be:
- Easy for everyone to see and read, including those with poor vision and people seated in the back of the room.
- Presented in colors and fonts that facilitate quick reading.
- Consistent in style (i.e. fonts and sizes of words should remain the same, a consistent color scheme should be employed, and a sense of unity should be preserved).
- Considerate of the audience’s reactions. For instance, using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS can make the audience think that your text is shouting at them or being too intense.
- Not too busy (which means that a minimalist approach to ornamentation, imagery, and animation is preferable).
To make good style choices, be sure to consider:
- the lighting in the room,
- the distance of the audience from the screen, and
- the size of the screen.
If you ever give a presentation using your computer as the screen, for instance, you must think particularly strategically about the size of visuals as well as the size of text that you use.
Remember, too, that empty space on a slide can help rest viewers’ eyes, can help focus the audience’s attention on what you want them to see, and can prevent the audience from being overwhelmed or distracted by busy visuals.
Interacting with slides
Drawing the audience’s attention to particular parts of a slide can be achieved through a presenter’s interaction with the slides. A laser pointer can be used for this, but useful low-tech options include gesturing with your open hand or pointing finger to key elements of a slide, or using a wooden pointer (which many rooms at Chalmers have, but not all rooms. So, plan accordingly).
To be able to interact with the slides and to engage in eye contact with the audience (both of which are elements of strong presentations), it is important that you do not simply read a manuscript or your notes. Reading aloud tends to make your voice more monotone or “robotic” as well, and will often cause a presentation not to make a passing mark in Chalmers classes.
Note also your positioning in relationship to the screen. Are you blocking the projected information? Are you standing too far away from the screen to interact with the slides? Lastly, try to avoid simply standing still. A presenter’s movements can draw the audience’s attention, so consider how you can best use movement to enhance your presentation.
Visuals can help the audience understand your data or better follow your key points. But poorly chosen visuals will only distract audiences, so be strategic when including images, figures, and tables in your slides.