I see a lot of PowerPoint presentations and give a few myself. I’m always trying to do it better. Sometimes I fail, like when I tried to emulate Dick Hardt’s incredible presentation style which proved to be quite difficult and not really ‘me’. But at least I think I avoid some of the worst PowerPoint nightmares that you often see. In terms of usability and accessibility a lot of presentations are just plain rubbish! You see the same problems repeated over and over and you wonder how on earth presenters don’t cop on. But they don’t. So here are a few simple pointers to designing slides that won’t destroy the user experience for your audience.
Use large text
Then make it twice as large again. Seriously! You’re sitting a foot away from a good quality monitor when you write your slides. Your audience may be viewing a poorly projected image from 20 feet or more away. And not everyone has great eyesight. So fill the screen with big letters.
Use fewer words
You’ll have to in order to have a big enough text size, but it will make your presentation better anyway. Here’s an example of one of my slides from a recent presentation:
I could have done this instead:
But why put all that on the slide when I’m gong to say it anyway, and say it with feeling? The people at the back will strain to read it and everyone’s attention will be split between listening to me and reading the slide. If you need something to read yourself while you present, it’s better to use cue cards. Even worse is when a presenter writes what looks like a whole bible chapter on the slide then says only a few words about it. You’re left thinking “Hey wait a minute, what did I miss there?”. Pointless and damaging.
Be careful with colours and contrast
Venues, projectors and even projection screens vary a lot – a LOT! Poor setup and bad lighting can make the image on the screen very dim and washed out. How many times have you looked at what’s on your laptop, looked at what’s on the projector screen and thought “where did all my colours go?”. Your beautiful pink has turned into muddy brown and the blue is dishwater grey. It happens all too often. Be prepared, it can end up looking like this or worse:
Taken from Presentation Zen.
Probably okay at the top, but with the graded background it becomes more and more difficult to read as you go down. Notice how even the contrasting colours at the top are rendered useless by having too much text which is too small. And what’s he doing with his back to the audience reading it? Come on! That’s not very engaging is it!
No complicated graphs or diagrams
What is the point of this?:
From “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq” by Thomas E. Ricks.
This is an actual slide used in a US Military briefing on Iraq. Although when you think about it, it’s actually quite an accurate picture of the chaotic situation it depicts.
That’s not all
Okay, following these 4 pointers won’t make you a super presenter like Dick Hardt or some of the guys featured on Presentation Zen. But it will ensure that people can actually read the content of your slides and they don’t get in the way of your words.
If in doubt, DO NOT ask advice from the people who created PowerPoint. You might end up with something like this:
Photo courtesy of Niall Kennedy.
Present clearly. Present well.
Mark Magennis (IIA guest blogger)