Another organizational feature on the body slides that can become a missed opportunity is the headers. Many presentation slides employ single word or phrase headers. Research shows (Alley & Neeley, 2005) that this may not be the most effective format to persuade or teach. Alley & Neeley and others (Markel, 2009) advocate for the use of sentence case headers on body slides that make a strong, clear claim in a complete thought. Punctuating and capitalizing them as sentences is also recommended.
Sample of a slide using a sentence case header
Switching to sentence headers can be a challenge for students at first—even the student examples provided below do not fully follow this advice— because it is different from what most of us have experienced. However, using it can be effective when bullet points are eliminated in place of a visual support on each slide.
5. Add your visuals.
The final step, and arguably the most difficult, is adding visuals to the slides to support the your claims. Determining visuals that are effective in emphasizing the points, simple enough to comprehend, within the designer’s ability to create, or available to use without copyright infringement is quite a challenge. The following tips can help you begin to design visually based PowerPoint slides:
- Consider your options.
Although challenging to think through whether an idea can be represented graphically, you have many possibilities available that work well in PowerPoint. Good options for visuals include graphs or charts for presenting data, tables for displaying lists (an alternative to bullet points), photographs or screen shots for showing steps in a process, illustrations or line drawings for simplifying complex images or showing internal workings, and PowerPoint SmartArt graphics for demonstrating relationships and processes. These are only a few of the choices available and a few potential uses for each. Once you have an idea of the type of visual to use, you will need to create or find it.
- Create your own visual.
It is always best to create a visual yourself—if you have the programs and skills to do it—because it gives you complete control of the visual and avoids copyright issues. Although some programs for creating visuals are expensive or require specialized skills, others are readily available and easy to use. Consider screenshots, for example. These are simple to create and excellent for demonstrating a digital process. Likewise, most students can take their own photographs at a quality acceptable for presentations. Graphs are easy to make in Word or Excel and transfer into PowerPoint.
- Use the drawing tools in the presentation software.
PowerPoint supplies easy to use tools, such as SmartArt, for creating visuals. You will find these tools intuitive to use, but you must be careful to select diagrams or graphs that accurately match the concept you are attempting to represent. Markel correctly notes, “Microsoft has always done a better job creating drawing tools than explaining how to choose the appropriate one” (2009, p. 126). You must also be careful to avoid design features on these graphics that make them difficult to read and understand. For example, a three-dimensional pie chart can be not only hard to read on the screen but also misleading, particularly if you use color inappropriately. Again, less is usually more; basic designs and simple color schemes are best.
- Find an existing visual.
Sometimes you will not be readily capable of creating your own visual, and will need to find one somewhere else. If you work for an organization, check with the marketing department for photographs and logo files. (They can also supply you branded fonts and colors and perhaps even predesigned company slide templates.) Subject matter experts within your organization may be able to provide technical diagrams, line drawings, cross sections, etc. As a student, you can glean from the Internet helpful images of this kind, but should use them for educational purposes only. Be careful to credit borrowed images, and do not use images without permission for anything intended for a professional setting or for which you or anyone else will gain a profit.
Pulling It All Together
Shifting your thinking about the purpose and design of presentation slides and using the processes and tips provided is not rocket science, but pulling everything together will require careful thought and planning. The following examples show many of the elements discussed here in action. These are presentations created by real undergraduate students. They are not perfect cases, but they offer creative, real-life solutions to the same challenges you will face in implementing this new style of PowerPoint construction.
In addition to the strategy discussed in this article, students creating formal presentations using presentation software should study principles of good visual design. Also, study of graphic design tools for creating visual images would benefit students who need to present technical information frequently. This article certainly does not encompass everything you need to know about using PowerPoint effectively, but implementing the strategies advocated should dramatically improve your presentations.
Alley, M., & Neeley, K. A. (November 2005). Rethinking the design of presentation slides: A case for sentence headlines and visual evidence. Technical Communication, 4(52), 417-426.
Horvath, J. C., & Lodge, J. M. (2015, June 26). It’s not PowerPoint’s fault, you’re just using it wrong. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from https://theconversation.com/its-not-powerpoints-fault-youre-just-using-it-wrong-43783
Markel, M. (May 2009). Exploiting verbal–visual synergy in presentation slides. Technical Communication, 56(2), 122-131.
Reynolds, G. (2012). Presentation Zen: Simple ideas on presentation design and delivery. Berkeley, CA: New Riders Pub.
Sorensen, B. M. (2015, April 29). Let’s ban PowerPoint in lectures – it makes students more stupid and professors more boring. Retrieved February 5, 2016, from https://theconversation.com/lets-ban-powerpoint-in-lectures-it-makes-students-more-stupid-and-professors-more-boring-36183.
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