You've just been asked to
speak at a big meeting and you want to make a good impression. Since visual
aids add interest to a presentation, you decide to create slides to accompany
your talk. So, you start up your computer and find a wonderful assortment of
templates, clip art, and fonts that you could use to create an eye rattling
display of artistry.
Stop right now and read
this article before you go further. It could save your presentation (and your
First, realize that there
are two important laws that apply to the design of exhibits:
1) People are more impressed
by what they can read and understand.
2) Elaborate design will
never rescue bad information.
Here are basic design considerations
that will make sure your exhibits help rather than hinder your presentation.
Your software may include
a library of ready-made designs (or templates). If so, use the same design for
all of your slides. And then, select the simplest one possible. Avoid complex
patterns, fancy icons, and exotic colors. I prefer designs like the following:
1) Plain (white) background
with blue text, using navy for the titles and a lighter shade for supporting
2) Blue background with
yellow text for titles and white text for supporting information.
Of course, you can create
templates like these yourself if they aren't in the library.
The key to successful design
is simplicity. Complexity confuses your audience and wastes your time.
Your software may provide
options that let you animate your presentation. I urge you to ignore the temptation
to use them. But if you must animate, be conservative. Tumbling icons, sliding
text, and fading images all appear interesting - once. After the third time,
however, the novelty wears off and they become distracting (even irritating).
Put the title at the top
and the supporting text in a bulleted list underneath. Justify all text to the
left, because we read from left to right.
If you include images place
them to the right of the text. Of course, some slides may consist of only an
image, such as a graph, schematic, or diagram.
When using images, use simple
images that people can easily understand at a distance. If you must show a complex
schematic, then distribute paper copies instead of attempting to cram every
thing on a slide that no one will be able to read. This also apples to large
spreadsheets, charts, and reports.
You can easily check your
slides for clarity. If you plan to introduce a slide with the words, "I know
you can't read this. . . " that slide is worthless. Toss it out.
Use one font for all of
the text in your presentation. The standardization makes it appear like a unified
Select a sans serif font,
such as Arial or Helvetica. You will recognize a sans serif font by the square,
block-like corners on the letters. Such fonts are more legible (easier to distinguish
at a distance).
Avoid serif fonts, such
as Times, because these are less legible. These fonts have small wings on the
ends of the letters, which help move the eye from letter to letter. While this
makes text printed with such fonts more readable, it can cause letters to blur
together at a distance.
Think road signs and use
a sans serif font.
Use mixed case for all text
because this assists word recognition at a distance. For example, consider the
This Is a Title
THIS IS A TITLE.
Solid capital letters appears
as a rectangular block, while the patterns formed by mixed case letters help
people read the words.
Bigger is better. I recommend
- 60 to 72 pt. for a title
- 42 to 48 pt. for standard
- 28 to 32 pt. for supporting
Check if your text is large
enough by printing a slide on standard paper, placing it on the floor, taking
one step back, and then trying to read it. If you are unable to read any of
the text, others won't be able to read it either.
Reminder: you are preparing
these slides to display information for your audience's benefit. Thus, use text
that they can read.
Lines of Text
Limit yourself to a title
and a maximum of seven lines of supporting information. If you use more lines
than that, you risk two dilemmas:
1) You will have to use
a smaller point size than recommended, which makes it more difficult to read
2) You will put too much
information on a single exhibit, which makes it more difficult to understand
I also recommend a paragraph
spacing of 1.5 lines, to make each idea stand out from others in the list.
Fewer is better. Your slides
should support your presentation, not replace it. If your slides contain the
complete text that you plan to say, you may as well stay home and just mail
a copy to everyone.
Most text slides consist
of a title and supporting text. Effective titles present a headline or summary
of the idea on that slide. Supporting text provides key words or ideas that
outline (or reinforce) what you plan to say. For example, a slide summarizing
this article might look like:
Keep Exhibits Simple
- Plain Background
- Conventional Layout
- Sans Serif Font
- Large Point Sizes
- ixed Case Text
- Minimum Words
Most people begin planning
for a presentation by writing a list of the ideas that they want to convey.
At this stage, feel free to write sentences, paragraphs, or phrases. When you
create your exhibits, reduce these ideas to the most concise text possible that
retains an outline of your ideas. That way, your exhibits will highlight what
you are saying, while letting you stay at the center of everyone's focus because
you are the source of information.
As a final point, realize
that accurate content is essential. Make sure that your facts are correct and
ask others to evaluate your materials. If you have time, invite your boss or
trusted colleagues to attend a practice run of your presentation. Then you can
look forward to your big presentation, confident that you, and your slides,
will make a good impression.