How to Do a Good PowerPoint Lecture

Having strongly stated my opinion that PowerPoint is not actively evil, but can be used to give good scientific presentations as well as soul-crushingly dull bullet-point talks, I feel like I ought to say something to back it up. Here, then, are some of the rules of thumb I use when putting together a good PowerPoint talk.

1) Know Your Audience. This is probably the most important rule in giving a talk, no matter what medium you plan to use. A talk aimed at an audience of undergraduate science majors is a very different thing than a research talk given at an international conference, or a public lecture given to a general audience. Don’t assume you can splice one of these together out of pieces of another– in certain circumstances, you can re-use slides from a talk aimed at one audience for a different kind of audience, but it’s not a safe assumption. You’re better off starting from scratch.

(Continued below…)

2) Limit Your Material. I tend to view one slide per minute as an absolute upper bound on any given talk, and I rarely reach that. The most recent public lecture I’ve given ran twenty slides for a 50-minute talk, and I rarely have more than 15 slides for a one-hour class. The colloquium talk on my current research runs about 26 slides, and also tends to run a little long.

I’ve seen more speakers than I care to mention show up with 75 slides for a 60-minute talk, and those talks never end well.

3) Equations Are Death. Yes, physics is a mathematical science. It doesn’t mean that people want to look at slide after slide of nothing but equations. There are few experiences as soul-crushing as sitting in a dark room watching somebody do algebra.

It’s almost impossible to completely avoid equations, but make sure you limit it to only the absolute essentials, and do everything possible to simplify them. If your equation has a big clump of fundamental constants out front, consider grouping them together into a single overall constant, to redue the visual clutter.

4) Text Is Death. Specifically, don’t put complete sentences on your slides. Most people can read faster than you can talk, and if you present them with a dense slide of text, they’ll focus on reading it, and tune you out. You want them to be listening to you, not reading your slides, so keep the text to a minimum. You need enough that the slide will make sense to somebody who gets distracted for a minute, and misses some of the talk, but you’re not writing a novel, you’re giving a talk.

5) Explain Your Graphics. When you show a plot, explain what it is clearly and simply, the minute you put it on screen. Say right up front “In this graph, we show the number of neutrinos at a given energy on the vertical axis, versus the neutrino energy on the horizontal axis.” If the audience doesn’t know what you’re plotting, they won’t understand anything else that you say, so make it clear from the beginning.

6) Define Your Terms. Similarly, if you must put up equations, make sure you define all the symbols clearly and simply. Even if something is just a proportionality constant, say that up front, otherwise somebody in the back is going to be thinking “What the hell is A?” and missing your actual point.

7) Keep the Background Simple. Yes, you can download all sorts of spiffy pictures to use as a background for your slides. Don’t. It’s visually distracting, and tends to obscure your actual meaning.

The background should be a solid color, or if that’s too plain, one solid color shading into another. The text and graphics should be in colors that strongly contrast with the background– yellow text on a white background is almost completely invisible, and should never be used. You want people to be listening to you, not squinting at the screen trying to determine whether there are words there.

8) Keep the Animation Simple. There’s some setting in PowerPoint that assigns a random animation effect to each new item that appears, and students almost invariably go for this. Whenever I see it, I want to beat them senseless with an eraser.

You can get a lot of mileage out of simple animation, revealing important information a little at a time, but the carnival of animation effects is incredibly distracting. Pick one effect, and stick with it. I recommend “Appear,” but I don’t object to some of the fade-in effects. The one where a text item drops from the top of the screen and bounces three or four times before settling into place should never, ever be used except as an “alternative interrogation technique.”

9) Keep Multimedia to a Minimum. One of the selling points of PowerPoint is that it lets you stick in movies and sound files, and other multimedia objects. Resist the temptation to overuse this feature.

The sad fact is, these files will fail to work about a third of the time. Two-thirds of the time, if you’re using somebody else’s computer. Don’t set up your talk so that it relies on the seamless operation of some video clip that requires a plug-in, because it’s almost guaranteed to fail at some point. If you’ve got to show a movie, make it an animated GIF if you can, rather than trusting that QuickTime will work when you need it. And put in a slide showing still images of the key frames, in case the movie just won’t play.

10) Prompt Yourself. There should never, ever be a time when a slide comes up and you think “What the hell is this?” Make sure that every slide has something on it that will cue you if your mind goes totally blank in the middle of the talk. You should be able to pop up a random slide, and seamlessly pick up the talk from that point. This is as much a matter of rehearsal as talk design, but you can save yourself a lot of anxiety by making sure that every slide has a clear role in the talk.

11) Structure Matters. Make sure that there is a clear and logical flow to the talk, with one topic leading nicely into the next. The goal is to have the audience leave knowing something about what you did, and our brains are trained to grab hold of narrative. Use that to your advantage, and make your talk into a story– people will stick with you much better.

You can sort of approximate this by using regular outline slides, but I personally think these are usually a waste of time. If you’re stopping every few slides to remind people of where you are and where you’ve been, you’re either confusing your audience, or insulting them.

I tend to use a “take-home messgae” slide at the very beginning that gives the key idea (“We can use laser cooling techniques to measure krypton contamination in ultra-pure neon at the 10-14 level in only a few hours.”), to establish the goal of the talk, and then try to design the talk so that the direction is always obvious. I do occasionally remind people of the main point along the way, but I don’t make specific outline slides.

That’s probably enough rules to make a point of some sort. I’ll try to pull together a few files showing the slides I use for various talks, if I can beat them down to a reasonable size for uploading. Otherwise, comments and additions are welcome.

Comments

  1. #1 coturnix
    November 6, 2006

    “Dazzle ‘Em With Style” by Robert Anholt is an excellent book on giving scientific talks. Highly recommended (yes, I know him personally, but that is irrelevant in this case).

  2. #2 Elia Diodati
    November 6, 2006

    I like presentationzen.com. It’s aimed more toward business presentations, which have a much higher eye candy : content ratio than scientific ones, but there are still good ideas there.

  3. #3 NJ
    November 6, 2006

    As per item 8 (which should be slide/object transitions, strictly speaking):

    I strongly agree that limiting transition effects is critical to not driving people crazy. You should pick a simple one and use it throughout.

    I tend to use the dissolve (a fade-in) in Keynote as it permits the creation of simple animations, very useful in geology. One of my favorites uses some cutout block diagrams of Mt. St. Helens as it built up to the eruption of May 18, 1980. By overlaying them carefully to get the separate drawings to register (nearly!), students can clearly see how the north side expanded in response to magma movement.

    I also pseudo-animate a bar graph of volcano ejecta volume comparing MSH, Krakatoa, Crater Lake, Tambora and Yellowstone. Never fails to impress.

  4. #4 Karen
    November 6, 2006

    I’d add another rule: make the text in your illustrations legible. I can’t count how many times I’ve sat through a presentation, trying to decipher the 10-pt labels on graphs, and have the presenter say “you probably can’t read this very well, but this shows…”

    If the illustration is important enough to show, it’s important enough to redraw to be legible.

    A variant on this is illustrations that have unresolvable detail. They may look fine on your high-resolution monitor, but print them at 72 dpi (the resolution of most projectors) and see how they’ll look on screen. The difference is often very surprising, even if you made the illustration with this problem in mind.

  5. #5 Thinker
    November 6, 2006

    To begin with, don’t assume you need to use PowerPoint at all. Indeed, if you really know your audience and the message, it is often unnecessary.

    Some of the most memorable talks I have ever had the pleasure of attending involved no particular visual aids at all, or something completely different than PowerPoint. They got the message across very well anyway! (… or maybe it was just because they were not “just another ppt event”.)

  6. #6 PhilipJ
    November 6, 2006

    @NJ – As a Star Wars fan, I’m particularly fond of the screen wipes in Keynote. :)

    As for the post itself, I totally agree with just about all of it. The key for me is that it is a talk, so anything that distracts from someone listening to you while you’re speaking is bad.

    Chad, maybe you should write this more formally and submit it to AmJPhys or something. Periodic reminders on how to give good talks/posters/etc. in the scientific literature are useful, IMO.

  7. #7 Jennifer Ouellette
    November 6, 2006

    I’m the process of putting together my very first Power Point talks, so this is extremely timely — and incredibly helpful. Thanks! It’s going in my permanent clip file for future reference.

    I’m saddened about the difficulties with video and sound files, though, as the talks I had in mind would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of 4-5 clips from TV shows. Any suggestions on how to make this work with minimal risk of system failure?

  8. #8 dr. dave
    November 6, 2006

    I’d like to reinforce the comment about using transitions and builds to fake animations. Yes, the ZOOM IN build is incredibly obnoxious when it is used to zip bullet points onto the screen willy-nilly. But suppose you are talking about the Rutherford experiment, and want to show an alpha particle being deflected from a gold nucleus? You can build the alpha particle’s graphic element in with a zoom from the left to right, then build it out with a zoom to the upper right, and you’ve made yourself a little movie right there in Keynote/Powerpoint. I use this sort of thing all the time, whether it’s fading away the “shell” of a (admittedly “schematic”) proton to reveal the quarks inside, or showing a stream of neutrinos zipping through the Earth and coming out the other side. Once you stop thinking of the programs as a replacement for a chalkboard or as a bullet-point factory, you can actually do a lot of amazing visual stuff with them.

  9. #9 Rob Knop
    November 6, 2006

    I’m saddened about the difficulties with video and sound files, though, as the talks I had in mind would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of 4-5 clips from TV shows. Any suggestions on how to make this work with minimal risk of system failure?

    I’m about to be extremely unhelpful. (Just so you know.)

    I do this the Extreme Nerd way. In OpenOffice Impress, you can assign an action to any object, including running a system command. What I do is set up little shell scripts that run my movie player on the animation I want to play, and then set up the object to run that shell script when I click on it. Then, click, voila, there’s the movie. (It’s not embedded, no, but it jumps to it quickly.)

    I’m not sure any of what I just said makes any sense outside of the context of Unix.

    -Rob

  10. #10 RPM
    November 6, 2006

    Knowing your audience is the most important thing, and it also dictates how to structure your talk. If you’re presenting a departmental seminar, powerpoint is fine. But for class lectures, I find it very difficult to follow. I find (or found, I guess since I don’t take classes any more) that I learn best when I copy ALL the notes during a lecture. When instructors use powerpoint, they assume the students will print out the slides before lecture and only write down the additional notes. This does not work for me. I can’t learn this way, so I try to copy the notes off the slides. I never (well, rarely) have enough time to write down all the information off of a slide during lecture. That’s why I can’t stand instructors that use powerpoint in lectures.

    I prefer chalk board lectures accompanied by overheads (and handouts) for things that can’t be drawn on a board easily. This forces the lecturer to keep a managable pace, but also allows for some of the figures that would be part of a powerpoint talk.

  11. #11 Chad Orzel
    November 6, 2006

    Jennifer Ouellette: I’m saddened about the difficulties with video and sound files, though, as the talks I had in mind would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of 4-5 clips from TV shows. Any suggestions on how to make this work with minimal risk of system failure?

    The best bet is to use your own laptop for the presentation. If you can give the talk from the same computer you used to make it and test it, then you’re pretty safe.

    Most of the serious problems I’ve seen have come when speakers needed to use a local machine that was connected to the projector. If you’re going to be in that sort of situation, put your presentation together using the absolute lowest common denominator of software (that is, use Windows Media Player rather than some highly customized open-source program), contact whoever is in charge of media where you’ll be speaking and make sure they have what you’re using, and test it before you actually start the presentation. It’s also a good idea to have some backup plan if the media don’t work in the presentation itself– have the raw files with you, and open them directly, or prepare a few slides with still frames to highlight the important bits.

    But if you can use your own computer, the odds of a catastrophic failure are much lower.

  12. #12 Chad Orzel
    November 6, 2006

    When instructors use powerpoint, they assume the students will print out the slides before lecture and only write down the additional notes. This does not work for me. I can’t learn this way, so I try to copy the notes off the slides. I never (well, rarely) have enough time to write down all the information off of a slide.

    I never assume that students are filling in gaps on copies of the slides, as I don’t make the slides available in advance of the lectures– rather, I post them after class (sometimes long after the class, particularly when I get waylaid on my way back to my office, and end up spending the rest of the afternoon doing something completely different). I do that precisely because I know that many people learn more by copying everything down– because I do that myself. I make the sldies available so students can check them after class, if they have gaps in the notes, but I encourage people to take notes during class in the same way that they would for a chalk talk.

    While it’s true enough that you can blow students away by quickly scrolling through projected slides, I would say again that if that’s the case, then the lecture is badly designed. If you’re doing it right, you’ll build in time for people to copy down the whole slide.

    (Within reason, anyway– some of the responsibility in this has to fall on the students, who need to learn to take notes effectively and efficiently.)

  13. #13 coturnix
    November 7, 2006

    PPT animation worked great for a friend of mine who used it to illustrate how p-elements get inserted into the genome and what that does to the fruitfly genes.

  14. #14 Therese Norén
    November 7, 2006

    When it comes to colour, remember that almost certainly someone in your audience is going to have red-green colour blindness. Green text on red is as bad as yellow on white for them.

  15. #15 kstrna
    November 7, 2006

    It does depend on the subject with regards to handouts. I am in a molecular biophysics/biochemistry program. Many lectures therefore involve talking about macromolecular structures, complex active sites, etc. Notes without the figures are meaningless and trying to draw the information on the board takes forever and is incredibly boring. The best lectures in our dept. are by the faculty who provide the figures before lecture starts but leave room for students to take notes. They generally pace themselves so students have time to appreciate what is on the screen, listen and think about what the professor is saying, ask questions and take notes. Movies that are shown are made available on the course server as are links to the references cited. It also helps non-native speakers to have the figures ahead of time because they can focus on what the professor is saying & taking notes rather than trying to scribble down the figures.

  16. #16 Chad Orzel
    November 7, 2006

    When it comes to colour, remember that almost certainly someone in your audience is going to have red-green colour blindness. Green text on red is as bad as yellow on white for them.

    That’s a good point.
    I also favor a physical pointer (i.e., a stick) over a laser pointer, for the same reason. Laser pointers tend to be totally invisible to a fair number of people, and you don’t want anyone to miss out.

  17. #17 Rob Knop
    November 7, 2006

    There should never, ever be a time when a slide comes up and you think “What the hell is this?”

    Too bad this doesn’t apply to other people’s talks too…

    You can sort of approximate this by using regular outline slides, but I personally think these are usually a waste of time. If you’re stopping every few slides to remind people of where you are and where you’ve been, you’re either confusing your audience, or insulting them.

    I want to disagree with this one a little bit.

    I don’t ever use regular outline slides… I sometimes, though not always, have an outline at the very beginning. However, depending on the talk, I’ve found that it is sometimes helpful to have embedded “summary” slides. Especially if I’ve been through something that I think contains a number of interesting points, but that has one or two things that are the most critical for what is to come ahead, I’ll put in a summary slide to make it clear that a transition is here, and that this particular thing is the most important bit of foundation for the next stuff.

    And I’ll sometimes, although again not always, do summary slides at the end. (Years ago — 1987, I think — I saw a video of a DOE Physics guy giving a talk about giving good talks. There, it was all vugraphs, or whatever the official name of transparencies were. One thing emphasized was that you should tell them where you’re going at the beginning, and tell them where you’ve been at the end. I’m not sure I always agree, but I do think it’s good advice in general.)

    -Rob

  18. #18 Rob Knop
    November 7, 2006

    I also favor a physical pointer (i.e., a stick) over a laser pointer, for the same reason. Laser pointers tend to be totally invisible to a fair number of people, and you don’t want anyone to miss out.

    Here’s my favorite.

    I was at a colloquium last week. In our colloquium room, the screen is HUGE, and way above the head of the speaker. It cuases neck pain for anybody in the first three or four rows of the room. This is a room that was redone in the last few years, and I’m still not sure what they were thinking.

    The result is that a physical pointer is straight out. When I teach in there, I use a laser pointer… but now properly chagrined, I’ll ask my students if any of them can’t see it. Those who can’t may not tell me, so perhaps I’ll do it with an anonymous poll and an extra credit point. But, to use the laser pointer, I have to step away from the computer and forward quite a ways, and even then I have to look at quite a steep angle to see it. (It makes linearly projecting plots down to axes very hazardous.)

    So, back to this colloquium the other day. The speaker realized that the screen was too high and hard to see… but he also realized that there is a standard-sized screen at the lecturer’s desk that echoes what is visible up on the main screen. Quite handy. Except for the fact that throughout the rest of the talk, he pointed at what he wanted to point at on the screen in front of him. Not with the mouse. With his finger.

    I’ve heard that this is very effective when giving talks to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, but otherwise….

    -Rob

  19. #19 J-Dog
    November 7, 2006

    It should be Federal Law that all the above points must be taken into account by ALL Power Point Presenters! However, I would like to reiterate and develop what Karen said – SLIDES MUST BE READABLE!

    Best way to check, is to prep by a visit to the back of the presentation room prior to the talk and try to read a slide. If you can’t, the font is too small, and you need to make the fonts bigger. If you are travelling to give the presentation, have your on-site contact pace off the room, and give you the dimensions.

    Oh. BTW… NEVER ask “Are there any questions?” (This is a lame closed-ended question, NOT open ended and should be avoided at all costs). Ask instead, “What questions do you have?”, which will be much more likely to stimulate discussion.

    Thanks for coming, and thanks for listening!
    We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.

  20. #20 Rosie Redfield
    November 7, 2006

    Check out the “Presenter Tools” feature of PowerPoint. it’s under the View menu in the Mac 2004 version, though harder to find in the Windows version.

    It shows your slides on the projection screen as usual, but on the computer monitor it shows a window with not only your current slide but your previous and next slides, your notes about the current slide, a timer, and several other features you didn’t realize you needed. You need to turn off ‘mirror displays’ to use it.

    I usually find myself glancing at the notes just before I click for the next slide, thus reminding myself of the points I meant to make about it.

  21. #21 Ambitwistor
    November 7, 2006

    Rob,

    One thing emphasized was that you should tell them where you’re going at the beginning, and tell them where you’ve been at the end.

    I’ve heard it summarized as, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.”

  22. #22 Frumious B
    November 7, 2006

    In our colloquium room, the screen is HUGE, and way above the head of the speaker.

    Some people hate this, but I use the shadow of a physical pointer in situations like this. Hold your pen or something in front of the projector so that the tip of the shadow is over whatever you are pointing at. I adopted this after seeing other people use b/c I like it. My advisor told me not to do it b/c it drove him nuts. YMMV. Of course, if the projector is over head, you are out of luck.

    2) Limit Your Material.

    Yes, but I prefer the limit content per slide to limit number of slides approach. This is also very much a matter of taste. I make fairly sparse slides and spend about a minute per (after many years of talking, I’ve got my talk speed well calibrated to my slide content.) One time I submitted a talk to my manager for approval, and he added in a million things to all my slides making them, in my opinion, way too cluttered and busy. So I suddenly had a lot more material to cover and had to rush. Same number of slides, though!

  23. #23 Kate Nepveu
    November 7, 2006

    Rob, Ambitwistor: I call this the “what I tell you three times is true” principle.

  24. #24 Asad Aboobaker
    November 7, 2006

    You know, I had just read your previous PowerPoint post, and then proceeded to go to a talk that violated rules 2,3,5,8, and 9 listed above. Strangely, I didn’t at the time necessarily think it was a “bad talk” — perhaps because I found the material compelling enough to keep me interested. The bouncing text and other ridiculous animations did make me cringe, though. The best (worst) part was on one slide, the speaker had two different cyclic animations going, each with a roughly ~2-3 second period, but, of course, they weren’t exactly the same period. I almost had to close my eyes to avoid the visual bombardment.

  25. #25 Rob Knop
    November 7, 2006

    If you can’t, the font is too small, and you need to make the fonts bigger.

    When in doubt, err on the side of too-big fonts.

    If you need anything smaller than something like 26pt, you’ve got too much text on the slide anyway. (And, yes, I sometimes use too-much text slides in class, and I will defend their use in some specific cases if challenged to, but as a rule they are to be avoided.)

    Indeed, I used to use 28pt and 32pt almost exclusively, but I’ve been corrupted by the HUGE screen in my current classroom, where I could probably get by with 18pt fonts (although I never go below 24pt, I think, even for the “small stuff”).

    Another rule : never fill the slide all the way out to the edge. The projector will cut it off, or won’t be lined up with the screen…. Give yourself a 5% margin around all borders to allow for some slop.

    Ask instead, “What questions do you have?”, which will be much more likely to stimulate discussion.

    Hey, that’s a good idea. I’m going to try that in class.

    -Rob

  26. #26 Rob Knop
    November 7, 2006

    I’ve heard it summarized as, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.”

    Yes, in fact, that’s exactly what the guy in this talk video I saw said.

    I wish I had a copy of the video, because there were some good things in it. And nearly (if not all of) everything in it applies despite the 23-year technology difference.

    -Rob

  27. #27 Rob Knop
    November 7, 2006

    One time I submitted a talk to my manager for approval, and he added in a million things to all my slides making them, in my opinion, way too cluttered and busy.

    Ak! Pain!

    If I had to submit slides to a “manager” for “approval,” I’d probably explode. If, what’s more, that manager was going to be just adding things I’d… we’ll I’ve already exploded, so I’m not sure what, but it would be messy.

    Sounds a little bit like talk by committee. “One for All, and All for Mediocraty.”

  28. #28 Mike Bruce
    November 7, 2006

    It probably doesn’t apply to something like a physics lecture, but Lawrence Lessig’s presentation style is very engaging and violates a number of your rules.

    I find (or found, I guess since I don’t take classes any more) that I learn best when I copy ALL the notes during a lecture.

    I always found that to be really distracting during class. A new slide or whatever would pop up, and the entire class would busily set to writing it down, rather than doing something silly like paying attention to the lecture.

    My zero-note-taking policy was, I think, one of the keys to whatever minimal academic satisfaction I ever had.

    (My near-zero-attendance and near-zero-studying policies were more problematical, I’d say.)

  29. #29 marachne
    November 7, 2006

    One issue with the font size rule — I’m a nurse scientist who mostly does qualitative research (and am working on a presentation right now for next week, dammit). The heart of qual. work are the quotes. Sometimes these quote can get quite long — you wind up with text heavy, smallish font slides. The “solution” such as it is that I have is to read the quote. Other suggestions?

  30. #30 Rob Knop
    November 8, 2006

    Sometimes these quote can get quite long — you wind up with text heavy, smallish font slides. The “solution” such as it is that I have is to read the quote. Other suggestions?

    Have notes, read the quote, but don’t put it on a slide… or put “highlights,” or a brief summary, on the slide. (If that is even possible to do reasonably.)

    Dunno.

    -Rob

  31. #31 Chad Orzel
    November 8, 2006

    You know, I had just read your previous PowerPoint post, and then proceeded to go to a talk that violated rules 2,3,5,8, and 9 listed above. Strangely, I didn’t at the time necessarily think it was a “bad talk” — perhaps because I found the material compelling enough to keep me interested.

    I should note that all of these rules are subject to what Teresa Nielsen Hayden referred to as the one solid rule of publishing: “If it works, it’s good.” Some speakers have the skill to pull off a talk that in lesser hands would be incredibly bad, and more power to them.

    They’re rare, though.

    One issue with the font size rule — I’m a nurse scientist who mostly does qualitative research (and am working on a presentation right now for next week, dammit). The heart of qual. work are the quotes. Sometimes these quote can get quite long — you wind up with text heavy, smallish font slides. The “solution” such as it is that I have is to read the quote. Other suggestions?

    It depends on how important the exact wording is. If it’s really critical to have the whole thing out there verbatim, then you’re stuck.

    I’ve seen people dodge the excessive reading problem by putting up long verbatim quotes, but highlighting the really important phrases (with a contrasting color, bigger font, or different background), and just emphasizing those. That can be effective, if it’s done well.

  32. #32 Joe
    November 8, 2006

    I liked the post and many good comments. Your comment “Some speakers have the skill to pull off a talk that in lesser hands …” is right on target. Right after joining a biochemistry lab, I attended a symposium featuring 12 of our leading biochemists. I didn’t have any context for the lectures at the time, and six months later I could not even recall the topics 11 presenters spoke on. However, years later I could reproduce one lecture from memory. And it was not watered-down, I understood all the chemistry in all the talks, Jeremy Knowles (Harvard, emeritus) has a gift.

  33. #33 Ted
    November 8, 2006

    Saw this topic on the sidebar while on another blog.

    You may want to review Edward Tufte‘s site for a critique of PPT in the engineering arena. Tufte has himself a little cult in communication circles due to his history with modern information graphics.

  34. #34 Natalie
    November 10, 2006

    Rosie Redfield – Thanks for pointing out the presenter tools. I’ve been looking for something like that forever since I use PowerPoint for my lectures, but need to have notes on the minimal information I actually put on the slides and I hadn’t figured out a good way to do it yet. That should solve my problems with what comes next too! You are a goddess!!

  35. #35 Alex
    November 11, 2006

    Use slideshare to upload your PowerPoints! It’s like YouTube for PowerPoint. That way we can see your stuff.

    Alex

  36. #36 Mark Frank
    November 12, 2006

    There’s lots of good stuff here, but it gives me an excuse for airing my concerns about scientific presentations and lectures. I spent most of my life as an IT instructor/designer and recently got involved with science communication. I have been a bit disappointed by the standard and approach to lectures and presentations. No doubt there are lots of scientists and others doing an excellent job – but many others are not.

    It is not their fault. No one has taught them or possibly even told them what there is to learn. Effective instruction and presentation is a well developed profession with established techniques and approaches. There is an awful lot of pseudoscience as well (NLP anyone?) – but it has gone beyond passing on the latest tips on using this or that medium. Scientists, academics (and many other professionals) often treat presentation/lecturing as something which an amateur can do provided they are intelligent and charismatic.

    Some of the signs of this include

    1. No clear objectives.

    Most people recognise the importance of knowing your audience. Very few seem to understand the importance of clearly defining what you want to achieve with the session. It is often deemed to be sufficient to “cover the material”. But consider the difference between:

    - create an enthusiasm for the subject,
    - gain support for my hypothesis,
    - get my audience to read and cite my paper
    - get my audience to support my case for funding
    - get the students to pass this bit of the exam

    2. No attempt to measure success

    Once you have clear objectives then you can measure whether you have achieved them. It is easy to stop at asking the audience what they thought of it. This is a cop out. It tells you very little except that the audience had a good time or are too polite to say different. How about a little quiz? Or asking who plans to read the paper?

    3. Concentrating on what you are doing, not on what the audience is doing.

    It is easy to think about what you are doing. But what matters is what the audience are doing. That’s how they learn, form their opinion etc. Are they listening and taking notes? Recalling what you said earlier? Relating the facts to other knowledge? Making an analysis or judgement? Asking questions of you? Of each other? Do you have a plan for what they should be doing at each stage? Once you have that you can think about how best to get them to do it.

    4. Determining the length of a session based on the content.

    What matters is what the audience can handle. If that is not enough for the content then you need more than one session. A good rule of thumb is divide the session into 15 minute or less chunks. After each chunk do something different to give students a chance to recapitulate and absorb what they have learned. And don’t go more than 45 minutes without a total break. Of course, if they already know the subject well then you can go on longer. Or if you are just in the entertainment business and don’t care how much the retain. Also remember short term memory can only hold about 7 items.

    5. Ignoring what happens before and after the session.

    How did the audience get to know about the session? Why did they come? What was the admin like? If they come interested, knowing what to expect, fresh and confident in the value/competence of you and the event organisers, then half the battle is won.

    What are they going to do afterwards? Can you help them? Maybe a web site with additional material or an offer to send your paper to anyone is interested. Can you link your session to something else that is going on?

    6. Thinking in terms of just one medium.

    Looking specifically at visual aids. Powerpoint is good for somethings in some contexts – but lousy for other things. Suppose you have a chart you want to keep referring to during the session? A prepared flip-chart would be good. Or you want to build up a picture gradually and the way it builds up depends on the answers the audience gives to your questions. A whiteboard sounds good. Or you want to brainstorm some ideas from the audience. Or they need to see what the rock/animal/chemical etc. looks like – show them the real thing.

    I could go on and on -but I guess that is more than enough:-)

  37. #37 Les Posen
    November 18, 2006

    Interesting thread, which I can but add a little to (if you want to read more just Google ).

    I teach professionals presentation skills combining my clin. psych background, with a grad. qual in Knowledge Management.

    If there is one thing I try to get my audiences to consider, it’s how to involve their audiences in their presentation. You, the presenter, have to work hard, so that they, the audience, get it easy. Which means examining every slide to see if it really helps your message delivery or it’s there because in your mind the Professor would disapprove if it wasn’t. I also advice to eschew all pointing devices. I have yet to see anyone use a laser without me thinking “Parkinson’s Disease”. So if you have a table ot chart or graph, know ahead of time which elements you want your audience to focus on. Then use either a red circle to draw attention, or mask/highlight those important areas – ie learn to use the slide app. to its best advantage. I sometimes will bring in a pencil image to point to some part of the diagram, or will block out other parts and enlarge the part i want my audience to “get”, much like TV shows highlight quotes. Knowing which parts of the slide you’re going to highlight focusses your attention in ways a laser point can’t.

  38. #38 sparc
    January 14, 2007

    A more technical hint:
    Pictures make PPT presentations quite big. Thus they are often hard to e-mail.
    I recently obtained ppt minimizer which reduces all graphics to the minimum size required for good resolution. One presentation was reduced from 20 MB to 2 MB. Projected with a beamer both versions looked the same.
    It costs about 30 $ (actually I paid in Euro). If you don’t need it to often the test version which allows 12 free compressions may be sufficient for you.
    You can downlod it here:
    http://www.pptminimizer.com/eng/index.php

  39. #39 Tatil
    June 6, 2009

    3. Concentrating on what you are doing, not on what the audience is doing.

    It is easy to think about what you are doing. But what matters is what the audience are doing. That’s how they learn, form their opinion etc. Are they listening and taking notes? Recalling what you said earlier? Relating the facts to other knowledge? Making an analysis or judgement? Asking questions of you? Of each other? Do you have a plan for what they should be doing at each stage? Once you have that you can think about how best to get them to do it.
    Madde Thank youu

  40. #40 kid how hates SCHOOL
    December 11, 2009

    power points suck

  41. #41 ehsan azad
    October 5, 2011

    thanks for your advise its really helpful for me

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