How to make better slides

Few scientific and technical professionals receive formal training in presentation skills, let alone design skills to improve the graphic display of their data. Understanding and applying multimedia design principles can not only increase the overall effectiveness and clarity of your slides but also it can enhance the professional appearance of the slides (and you)!

What’s the best way to learn this stuff? My clients tell me it helps tremendously to see real before and after examples. I agree. Ready?

B&A Tip: Use it or lose it–make your point clear!

Let’s take a look…

First and most importantly, although you wouldn’t know this unless you heard the speaker deliver this slide, the title does not communicate his main point. He was studying gene silencing in drosophila (flies) and the point of this slide was to emphasize that his work was relevant to mammals too. Which is not obvious based on the “before” version of the slide title.

Secondly, the presenter only referred to panel A, E then, D, H and did not mention the other panels. From a presentation delivery perspective that was right on target. One or two examples is often sufficient evidence to make your point.

Rememeber that in a talk you are highlighting key messages with examples for support, while in the paper –the “document of record” you are recording everything you found. So, his error was in the graphic itself. It is important to always remove any information from a presenation that you don’t plan to cover. This is a very common error that occurs often. Many times the graph is taken directly from the paper, however, almost always you will need to modify your figure graphics from the paper to reflect the messages of your verbal presentation.

In this example, the figure clearly is providing too many details for the bigger message he is trying to communicate. You can also see many figure “artifacts” such as the red & blue arrows, the yellow stars and the panel labels. All of this needs to be removed so that the graphic illustrates ONLY the point the speaker is trying to make—otherwise the graphic causes confusion and overload. Finally the reference on the slide should be an “in-text” citation, with the detailed end reference at the end of the presentation.


Slide AFTER making graphic improvements.

In the after slide we add a “headline title” meaning, a specific title that communicates the main point. The old slide title becomes the bottom text “takeaway” which further details and highlights the speaker commentary regading the graphic. In addition, red circles highlight and guide the listeners eyes to the correct location on the graphics in order to make appropriate comparison. For reduce clutter and improve clarity, the extra panels, the panel markers and extraneous artifacts from the figure were removed. The in-text citation was corrected.

B & A Challenge:

Look at a recent graphic slide of yours. Can you improve the title to make main point more clearly and succinctly? Can you develop an appropriate “takeaway” that provides further detail and commentary on the graphic. Can you remove anything from the graphic to simplify yet still effectively make your point? Have you hightlighted the critical areas of the graph so your viewers are certain where to look?

Feel free to submit your graphics! We’ll post them here for review and analysis.

Do you want to learn more? Sign up for the next small group presentation skills workshop or perhaps consider one-on-one coaching. Afterall, you didn’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book–you needed an expert coach (your Dad) to show you how to do it and then you needed lots of encouragement and practice, right?

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Copyright Lisa B. Marshall ©2012-2016. All Rights Reserved. Photo of Lisa B. Marshall by Joan Ford Photography.