Dealing the deck: tips for better Powerpoint presentations

By Shivani Thiyagarajah

Eleanor Williams, from the Department of Health and Human Services, delivered APH’s first group workshop at Deakin Downton. Addressing the uses (and abuses) of PowerPoint, the workshop focused on how design can be utilised for maximum impact, particularly towards policy-makers.

The Opening:

The workshop opened with a discussion on how and why we used PowerPoint. The most frequent mentions were:

  • Conferences
  • Lectures/teaching capacity
  • As a tool to engage with policy-makers
  • As a supplemental to a presentation
  • Focus on the distinction of PowerPoint for students/peers compared to policy-makers
Photo by Charles on Unsplash

Slide design

Eleanor’s advice on slide design certainly challenged many of the ideas surrounding our use of PowerPoint and its functions. Long gone are the days of flashy star transitions and flying-paragraph animations, giving rise to a more professional and commanding usage of PowerPoint. The options that newer versions of PowerPoint offer are intriguing for those who want to to create striking presentations that can effectively supplement policy research.

 

Here are some of the take-away points for slide design:

  • Storyboarding your presentation can help to plot the best structure for your presentation
  • The title of that slide should convey the slide’s basic premise.
  • The smallest inconsistencies can draw negative attention and distract the audience from the content.
  • When used appropriately colour is an effective cognitive tool for the audience to comprehend and sort information, however, overuse can detract from the content and make your presentation less professional
    1. Pastel blocks are a good way to demonstrate the importance of information without being too harsh
    2. Contrast is key but be aware, that generally, less is more. Excess is a distraction
  • Consider the issues surrounding accessibility when designing slides. For effective communication, you need to know your audience beforehand. For instance, be aware of the colour contrast you use if your audience is colour blind.
  • Use an appropriate font size. The standard for presentations on-screen is size 16 to 18 for writing and 20 to 22 for headings.
  • Only move between two font sizes. Consistency is key when designing slides that look professional and appeal to your audience.
  • Maximise the white-space on your slide to add emphasis to the information. This can be done through reducing non-essential information, adding bullet points and surrounding text with a bordered box.
  • Decks will be more comprehensible if your formatting and structure are consistent and easy to follow.

 

Data visualisation

Photo by Lukas Bazek on Unsplash
  • Choose a graph/composition that is appropriate for your data set.
  • Greying out non-essential data points in graphs can help make data more comprehensible for an audience that’s short on time.
  • Break up information into individual graphs/compositions if needed to reduce clutter. For example, instead of having four, multi-coloured curves on one graph, to denote the difference in data-sets, create four copies of the same graph, greying out three of the curves and adding colour to the relevant line.
  • Use sufficient evidence to support your findings.
  • Diagrams are an excellent resource to collate data and supplement your presentation, however, they are not a substitute for analysis or evidence.
  • Data visualisation is a success if it can help to explain complexities and make the presentation easier to read.
  • Data visualisation should bolster your argument. If it doesn’t link to your analysis, don’t use it.

 

Conclusion

  • Content over form: Don’t overuse distractive forms (too many colours, animations, transitions etc) as it undermines content.
  • Maximise white-space through reducing clutter and non-essential information
  • Your deck should read like a narrative. Planning out your slides can help to create a cohesive argument and professional deck.
  • Check with a critical friend – does it flow, does it make sense?
  • Only use data/visual tools that support your analysis.

 

Additional resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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