Focus on design.

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Apresentation aims at providing useful information to a group of listeners either within the context of an organization, i.e., a group of teachers within a school, or within the broader context of an event, i.e., a teachers’ conference. In the former instance, the speaker has a guaranteed audience. In the latter, the speaker needs to attract participants and compete with other speakers. In both cases, the members of the audience need to identify who the speaker is and his position of authority. This will help them to perceive the content of the presentation as the one that meets their needs and expectations.

In both cases, “Effective branding creates a perception that there is no other product, service, organization or community quite like yours. Whether the distinction is a result of function, form, ease of use, price or prestige, the consumer believes you offer something exceptional“.[i] In order to achieve or maintain that status, you will need to adhere to at least three basic principles: “Somehow, some way, you have to be different. Be consistent and patient. Building a strong brand takes time. Put your brand definition in writing, otherwise you’ll get off course“.[ii]

In other words, you need to develop a strong identity, or enhance the one you already have based on your social, professional or educational background; you need to define your mission preferably in a short statement to constantly remind yourself of your aims and intentions; and you need to persevere to achieve the recognition that you deserve.

Brand your presentations (and yourself).

When creating your presentation you are almost definitely going to use one of the software programs already installed on your computer. In particular, you are going to take advantage of the functions that are readily available and, most importantly, of one of the templates offered.

There are two dangers here. Firstly, all presenters use the very same templates so presentations by different speakers on widely varied topics tend to look alike. The speaker is robbed of his own identity. Secondly, as a speaker, you are sooner or later tempted to use a different template for the benefit of your audience. Similarly, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to develop an identity as a presenter.

Would you rather use somebody else’s values, vision and personality or your own? This is what branding is all about: making your presentation and yourself stand out for what they really are. There are three principles to consider:

  • Clarity: Your values, your vision and your personality become visible and immediately identifiable.
  • Credibility: People who have listened to one of your presentations before will have an immediate reaction of trust and belief.
  • Consistency: Your personal template will help you to organize yourself making your intentions and goals immediately identifiable.

Make the Presentation Easy on the Eye (and the Mind).

Let us now turn our attention to layout. Layout describes how you organize pictures and text boxes, as well as how many of each you are going to use. The possible combinations of pictures and text boxes will give you at least four basic types of layout:

  • Slides with only one text box
  • Slides with only one picture
  • Slides with more pictures than text boxes
  • Slides with more text boxes than pictures

In all cases you need to exercise restraint: if the slide becomes too cluttered, your audience will be distracted while trying to comprehend the information displayed. Or they will simply give up.

Here are some basic rules[iii]:

  • Select your images carefully. They should tell your story rather than the other way round.
  • Select images that help the audience think and reflect. Images have a greater impact than words.
  • Size your image to cover the whole slide. Consider the necessary resolution so that it remains sharp and clear.
  • Place your text inside the image using a shaded background for the text box. It helps the text to stand out.
  • Help your audience to focus by allowing for empty spaces. Your audience will definitely appreciate it.
  • Your text box should cover approximately 1/6 of the image maximum.
  • There should be approximately 5 to 7 words per slide. If you feel you need more text, then prepare a handout.

Think Communication, not Decoration.

Each slide in a presentation serves a particular purpose. It introduces a section; lists key points, offers supporting information, lists examples and outlines conclusions. Different types of layout maybe more effective for different purposes depending on the content of your talk.

Basically there are three reasons why slides need to appear in a presentation[iv]:

  • Transition slides: those signaling the beginning of a new section or topic, etc.
  • Impact slides: those presenting a significant conclusion or quote, etc.
  • Content (information) slides: those listing points or research results, etc.

Any one of these functions can work with one of the layouts mentioned earlier.

  • If your transition slides are text only, then all your transition slides should be text only.
  • If your impact slides are picture only, then all your impact slides should be picture only.
  • If your content slides contain one image and one text box, then all your content slides should contain one image and one text box.

Consistency is paramount. Once the audience identifies the function that you have associated with each layout, then they can follow your presentation with ease. They know what to expect. They know what to anticipate.

Focus, Contrast, Simplify.

When deciding how much information to include in each slide you need to consider three guiding principles:

Focus[v]. It is a fact that our attention span is limited. It also varies dramatically from person to person and fluctuates for a number of reasons (the time of day, our motional state, etc.). We use presentation software to assist our audience to focus on what we have to say.

Each slide, then, should help our participants to do exactly that. A clear background helps us focus on the highlighted text. A single word captures our attention more easily than a whole sentence.

As presenters, we should also create a much higher impact by focusing on a straightforward message which can be expressed as economically as possible: one picture or one word.

Contrast[vi]. We understand and appreciate facts better when they are contrasted to other facts, especially facts that we are familiar with. For instance, we understand darkness in contrast to light. We understand simplicity in contrast to complexity. We appreciate silence in contrast to noise.

Similarly, every slide in our presentation should relate and contrast the one preceding it and/or the one following it. Images and text can help in that role. A powerful image can be contrasted to/ followed by a single word or vice versa. A black background can be contrasted with white text.

Simplify[vii]. When processing information, we try to link it to what we already know. We try to build associations between what we already know and what we are learning, between the old and the new. If we fail to do that, it is a case of in one ear and out the other.

Our slides should help our audience to build these associations. They should present information in a format that is easy to follow and process. That is why lists are easier than text, why graphs are easier than tables and why images are easier than words.

Choose a Suitable Colour Scheme.

When you choose a colour scheme there are two things to consider: number and mood and tone. In particular, the number of colours you are going to use and the mood and tone of your presentation.

The first one is straight forward[viii]: Choose 5 colours that look good together and use them consistently throughout your presentation. Use the same colours for impact slides, the same colours for information slides, and so on. Remember to choose one colour that stands out from the rest. It will be useful when you want to contrast or highlight something.

The second one can be a little tricky. Mood is defined as the feelings that the presentation, and, in particular, the image and the colours used, create in the participant. These can be feelings of hope or joy, feelings of pain or gloom.

Tone is defined as the attitude the presenter has towards the content of the presentation and his audience. This can be serious or optimistic, humorous or pessimistic.

Both mood and tone should work hand in hand. They should be balanced to reflect the content of your presentation as this is supported by the images and text you have selected to appear in the slides. Your colour scheme should reflect that. Again, consistency is important. You can be serious during a presentation with the occasional dash of humour. However, this change of tone needs to be signaled consistently.

Choose Suitable Fonts and Effects.

In typography, fonts are grouped in two major families:

  • Serif fonts, traditionally used in books and newspapers. Each letter has details at the end of each stroke as in the following example: THIS IS A SERIF FONT
  • Sans Serif fonts, used in modern magazines and signs or advertisements. Each letter lacks these details at the end of each stroke as in the following example: THIS IS A SANS SERIF FONT
  • There are also handwriting fonts used to emulate the feeling that the text is handwritten while being typed on a keyboard as in the following example: THIS IS A HANDWRITING FONT

There are no conclusive results that determine the readability of one group of fonts over the other since the latter is influenced by font size and effects such as bolding or italicizing.

Here are some ground rules:

  • Your choice of fonts should reflect the tone of your presentation. It should also be in line with the rest of the choices you made when designing your own template.
  • As with colours, exercise restraint. Choose three fonts: one for titles, one for body text and one for points that you want to highlight. The current convention is to use sans serif fonts.
  • Be consistent. Remember that as with layout, you are guiding your audience as to what to expect.
  • Consider Font Size. Anything less than 30p on a slide may be unreadable if you are viewing the presentation from the back of a large hall or auditorium. In addition, if your text cannot fit on the slide then reduce the text not the size.
  • Use effects sparingly. If you feel you need to bold or italicize every word in the text box, you may need to consider choosing a different font.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly: when you are transferring your presentation on another computer, make certain that you transfer any fonts that are not native to the software you are using. (Even better advice: bring your own computer to spare yourself problems)

[i] Stine, Greg, : The Nine Principles of Branding, p. 3, retrieved from www.polaris-inc.com on November 12, 2012.

[ii] Ibid, p. 6.

[iii] Jones, Simon: Presentation Skills for Teachers, retrieved from www.slideshare.net on November 12, 2012.

[iv] Small, Edhan: 10 Tips for Making Beautiful Slideshow Presentations, retrieved from www.slideshare.net on November 12, 2012.

[v] Alexei Kapterev : Presentation Secrets, p. 24, retrieved from www.slideshare.net on November 12, 2012.

[vi] Ibid, p. 24.

[vii] Jones, Simon: Presentation Skills for Teachers.

[viii] Small, Edhan: 10 Tips for Making Beautiful Slideshow Presentations, retrieved from www.slideshare.neton November 12, 2012.