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Designing Presentations with PowerPoint


There are two main elements to consider in designing a PowerPoint presentation - designing the presentation and designing the slides. PowerPoint itself contains excellent tools to help you produce the presentation, but we offer here some guiding principles in planning out your presentation that you might find helpful.

  Designing the Presentation

Create a presentation outline

A good place to start is mapping out the structure of your presentation (talk, lecture etc.). The Outline view of PowerPoint can help with this even before you are quite sure about what will go into the presentation. Include everything you feel is appropriate - you can rearrange the concepts and move them between slides as well as rearrange the slides later. You will probably need to prune out much of the information anyway.

If you have existing but more wordy scripts or lecture notes, but are unsure of how much should appear on the slides, copy them into the Notes view for the slides and then extract the pertinent details into the Slide view.

Create an overview - an objectives slide

Students need to get an overall picture of the session (an overview) and to see in advance the purpose and context of what is being taught. In order to follow the discussion and make connections, students need to understand the presentation objectives and their relationship to the rest of the course materials. Start out by giving your audience a map of your presentation. Where are starting from, where are you going to take them and why?

For lengthy presentations, work in levels and drill down to the details at each level in turn.

Think about what is purposeful

  • What goes into the slides and what is left to notes/handouts?
  • What goes into handouts or print copies?
  • How does the presentation fit into other activities in the session?

Essential slides

Ask yourself what purpose does this slide serve?'. Sometimes you just have to reject that carefully crafted slide.

Create 'signpost' slides

At all times, orientate your audience. At intervals remind them where they are in the presentation and how each part fits into the whole.

Remember what you know about presenting

Swept away by the technology, it is all too easy to send all your effort on fine-tuning that 'killer graphic' and forget the basics of presenting such as

  1. Tell 'em what you are going to tell 'em
  2. Tell 'em
  3. Tell 'em what you told 'em

Encourage student participation

Instructor-dominated presentations do little to engage the student in the topic. Avoid creating a presentation that doesn't change pace or activity, particularly if you are doing all the talking.

Students need to participate in the presentation if they are to connect with the material and benefit fully. Integrate visual dynamics if possible or insert a participative activity for short spells. As in any good class discussion, student responses should reveal the nature and accuracy of a learner's ideas about the subject.

Bear in mind, however, that students may also need to be given cues as to what type of discussion is expected - if not, your call for comments may elicit little response.

Consider individual learning styles

Presentations are most versatile when they incorporate a variety of media that reinforce one another and from which learners can choose. Mixing visual and auditory prompts, for example, allows students to access the material in whatever format is best for their learning style. One of the strengths of PowerPoint is that it facilitates the assembly of these different approaches to the same topic.

While common sense tells us what not to do, it is often difficult to take an objective view of what we create. We need to step back and view the presentation as if we were a spectator - or run it past a critical friend, who may be honest about your eye-catching bright green background or clear animation!

  Designing Slides

"Bad" PowerPoint presentations are memorable! How often have you tried to read paragraphs of text that whiz by as the presenter seems to be talking about something else entirely; or heard "I am sorry about the clarity of this slide, what it says is….". The reasons why these sorts of presentations make it to the lecture theatre is partly because the creators have not tried to see them from the audience's perspective, have done them in a hurry and certainly not assembled the slides with any reference to a checklist of good practice. The first two are the presenter's responsibility of course, but here is a quick checklist to help you avoid the major pitfalls of a poor presentation.

Slide Content

Limit the number of points per page and limit the amount of information on a page. Be concise

Bullet points can:

  • Prompt (benefits of the parliamentary system)
  • Illustrate (for example… , here is one…, etc.)
  • Summarize (the main features are…)

Don't use slides as lecture notes Your slides are not lecture notes and do not function well as a media for providing a lot of information. They are aides to your presentation and are good for illustrating:

  • Overviews
  • Concepts
  • Processes

Use poster paper principles Use the same principles you would apply to a poster paper - you would design it differently than an article in a journal. Remember that your students will be listening (hopefully) to what you are saying at the same time as they are scanning/reading the slide.

Distinguish what is said from what is read Use the bullet points to reinforce but not to expand on what you are saying. Too much information means they will miss either the aim of the slide or the point.

A good tip is to use the features of PowerPoint to help you here. If you have difficulty separating what you will say from what you put on a slide, paste that part of the script into the notes frame of that slide then extract the essential points into the slide.

A slide to support this last section might look like this:

Slide Content : Content

  • Limit number of points
  • Limit amout of information
  • Concise
  • Points 
    • prompt
    • illustrate
    • summarize

Avoid flashiness The design of the presentation is best kept simple and not made too flashy. The focus can all too easily shift to the style of the presentation, rather than what the presentation is attempting to convey. Use of multimedia features can enhance the presentation, but only if used to focus concentration.

Slide Text

Choosing text fonts and styles. PowerPoint provides opportunities to enhance the legibility of what you present beyond that of a white or blackboard but the temptation to include too much on a slide, combined with an inability to see the presentation from the audience's perspective, often means that slides are less legible than they could be.

  • Use large font size (typically > 24 pt)
  • Use sans-serif (vs. serif like Times) although dyslectics prefer serif fonts.
  • Choose light text on a dark background for projection and dark text on a light background for acetate printed versions.
  • Avoid non-standard fonts. If the font is not present on the teaching machine, Windows will default to some other font. This might result in your slides being illegible. 'Photosynthesis' could become '??????????????
  • Choose text and background colours carefully. Go for high contrast. Subtle differences are difficult to read but this may be exacerbated if the data projector cannot deal with them - both text and background colours may default to the same colour.
  • Background patterns and graphics generally interfere with readability. Background patterns that are light work well with dark colours and vice versa, but background designs that have both light and dark elements do not work well with either light or dark text and require some careful colour contrasting.
  • Experiment with slide transitions and animated text.
    The slow reveal features are simple to apply, but can be very distracting to the audience and pace-altering for the lecturer. Ensure that any special effects you apply actually enhance your presentation rather than distract or irritate. Animated text can be helpful - just like uncovering parts of an OHP transparency one at a time - But don't overdo it - only use it when you really need it or it can become tedious for presenter and audience.

Hypertext links These can be easily inserted into your presentation, so that by clicking on the link the Web browser will open and go to that Web site. You can also put in links to other parts of the presentation or to other presentations allowing you to create non-linear paths or jumps.

Slide Graphics In the past, using graphics in the classroom has been expensive and time consuming. Computer technology provides us with the potential to make as many copies of an image as we want instantly and to deliver those images in many digital formats.

The ability of PowerPoint to gather together several types of media into one delivery package is what makes it very useful in teaching. Your graphics, video and audio can all be delivered through PowerPoint, thus avoiding the struggle with several pieces of equipment at one time.

While audio and video take a little more time and effort, graphics are particularly easy to integrate into PowerPoint. Here are some simple tips for using graphics:

Graphics on slides

  • Consider how each graphic enhances the slide/concept
  • Limit to one graphic or visual element per slide
  • Build complex graphics in steps (custom animation).

Manipulate size and color

Changing the picture or icon can make it more attractive. Muting colors and changing the picture to background makes it a subtle tag that adds to the slide but does not distract the viewer.

Integrate images with text

Images should compliment the text but should not draw the viewers attention away from the message of the slide.

Image display on different computers

If you are delivering your presentation on-screen, you need to ensure that any images or animations can be viewed on the computer in the teaching room. For example, there can be problems transferring presentations created on a Macintosh to a PC. To minimise these problems, always use JPEG or GIF image files, and insert them through the menu, rather than Copying and Pasting between open files. (Macintoshes automatically convert images to PICT format if you copy and paste them between programs and PICT images cannot easily be read by PCs.)