Your Friend, PowerPoint

I went to a presentation over the weekend. There were probably 80 people there, with a well known, internationally published photographer. As you might guess, the photographer’s presentation center around his photographs. No problem there, right? WRONG!
You see, this guy was great with a camera.  He had traveled the world taking amazing photographs. He understood the science of making light do wonderful things on his camera’s sensor. Yet somehow, he had never mastered the art of making a presentation. Once he got to the slides with pictures, he was fine (except for the fact there was WAY too much light in the room, but he couldn’t help that). But with his title and information slides, he used a multicolored script font on a black background. In other words, broke every rule in the book.

Yes, I realize he is an artist and must express himself creatively.  But expression doesn’t mean anything if no one can see it. And information is useless unless it can be effectively shared. I was taught by a bunch of seriously old school professors.  They wanted my slides to look basically like an old transparency. White background, black text. No shading whatsoever. Or, as my thesis advisor told me, “None of that cutesy crap.”

I’m not quite that bad. But there are some ways to make a presentation more readable. If you are on a projection screen, use a light background with dark lettering. If there is stray light in the room, it will not have as much of an effect. Now, if you are showing your presentation on a laptop screen or will be hooked up to a large LCD screen, dark background does look better.

Make your text large enough to be viewed from the back of the room. The screen should be appropriately sized, but you don’t want to get too small. Your fonts needs to be sans serif in capitol case. In other words, DO NOT SCREAM AT THE AUDIENCE.  It is more difficult to read.

You also do not want to crowd too much text on the screen at once. If you have to break a table across two slides, do it. I didn’t one time, in a *cough* rather important presentation and got burned for it.  I mean, this is perfectly readable, right?

I had thought far enough ahead to have my charts also in hard copy, so I was able to hand them out so my thesis committee could actually see the numbers. I got lucky that time. I never want that to be faced with that again.

Well, that’s the basics. Use easy to read fonts which are large enough to see and form a good contrast on the screen which may be in a bright room. Do not cram too much information on one slide.  I read recently that most academics don’t realize that PowerPoint slides are not transparencies; the slides are free. Use as many as necessary. In that spirit, I will continue this discussion in another post, later this week.

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