Creating effective slides – Jean-Luc Doumont


slides from googling harvard

  • examples (mostly with too much text)

On bullets

  • looks like a list, it’s not a list
  • don’t let ppt drive the way you present information
  • multiple topics — 5 or less. (can’t count more than this in a spot)
    • make a hierarchy if you have move.
    • doesn’t promote splitting into separate slides

Details / asides

  • contrast / format
    • prefer sans serif (feet) (serif has variable width, not good for contrast).
    • no funny backgrounds, new format bullets.
  • no vertical text

A simple test

  • if I remove the slide, can you redraw what was showing?

Creating effective slides

Foundations of communication

  • Goal: get the audience to understand a message
    • pay attention (presentation it’s now or never)
    • be able to act upon your content (ask questions, start collaboration, talk to you etc).
  • message is the interpretation about the information.
    • not the “what”
    • focus on the “so what”
    • is this ‘good news’ is this ‘difficult, impressive?’
  • on graphs
    • disconnected legends not good. (put the labels next to the objects)
    • what do you conclude from this graph?
  • maximize message for audience
    • strict selection.

Three rules

  1. Adapt to your audience
    • aside: story sending photos me.jpg. be audienced focused
  2. Noise
    • speaker’s way of distracting the audience
    • repetitive gestures
    • filler words
    • excess movement on slides
    • laser pointers (no laser’s for me)
    • increase the signal.
    • are the boxes necessary?
    • inconsitencies on slide — (time spent not on content)
    • parantheticals. Not necessary
  3. Effective redundancy
    • compensate for zone out loss
    • Balancing text and slides
      • get message just from slide
      • get message just from audio.
      • periodically blind people (taking notes)
    • if it’s too small to read 6 a page, it’s too small
    • ask a friend if the ‘what’ is clear, and if the ‘so what’ is clear.
    • practice at least once without the slides. Otherwise you are not a speaker. You are a museum guide.
    • (Make people curious about the slide before showing it).
    • Do you know what your next slide is? without looking at laptop, good eye contact.

Common problems

  • slides for speaker instead of audience. (cross out things you negate)
  • slides that double up as the written report (big problem in the business world).
  • copy paste from elsewhere
    • take time to do them well or don’t do them at all.
    • mismatch slides from previous presentations when in a hurry.
    • better approach: no slides.
      • First who is coming etc.
      • Fill in blanks about content (1 sheet of paper) what is the plan
      • If this is all you have, practice. –> How about matching expectations?

Presentation structure

  • Higherarchy: main message, main points
  • More time, don’t add more slides, add more points.
  • where do you put the so what? = title. Audiences read titles.
    • title is not redundant with the slide info
    • state the so what. A recent alarming drop. Oh yes, I can see that in the graph.
    • state, then develop. Not at the bottom.
    • don’t squeeze the title into the top, don’t segregate it away with the line.
    • LEFT align title easier. Complete sentence. Two lines okay (3 not). Good line breaks.

Designing the slides

  • common mistakes:
    • Noisy template
    • dump ideas randomly into slide.
  • what is a template?
    • A set of rules, where the content goes, and how it’s formatted.
    • if there is no content, there is nothing on it.
    • Title of slides first (what are you trying to tell the audience).
    • where do we put the data?
      • big stuff align with title.
      • small stuff has only 1 alternative, further in.
    • more on graphs
      • add tick marks only as needed.
      • move axes if necessary (now it goes to 100% cause it hits that number).
      • annotate graph, it says something about the data.
      • This is visual, this is how we do it on the chalkboard. ‘a slide is more like a chalk board’.

Using the slides

  • Timing
  • Pointers? (do clear slides need pointers?)
    • laser pointers run around
  • Self / stance
    • eyes don’t come back to you. They stay on the slide.
    • eye contact is the major connection of credibility. Stable, tall, look in the eyes.
    • way to convince audience in a talk is not your data, it’s the eye contact.
    • stand square to audience. Point with hand, point with your eyes. When your eyes go back to the audience, they track back to you.
    • don’t look at audience when standing infront of side. They aren’t supposed to be looking at you at this point. or reading the text on your face.
    • even sticks return to you. Though have a place where you put it down!

Three things to check

  1. Does it convey a so what (ideally a full sentence in title. up to two lines).
  2. Is it developed visually?
  3. Did we remove all the noise?


  • backgrounds — dark backgrounds for dark rooms (fluorescence images), light backgrounds for light backgrounds
  • white background generally best, keep a bright room, have good eye contact?
  • what about switching? (best if you switch lights). People will be disoriented for a little bit.
  • posters? use the format.
    • get rid of everything people won’t read: e.g. references.
    • if you really need it have a handout. – name email website, refs etc.
    • readability should be readable on a US letter sheet.
  • talk outlines?
    • okay but please don’t make it boring.
    • make it specific to your talk.
    • don’t do it too early.
    • the problem statement, the task, and then the takehome message
    • it’s just for the stuff in the middle
    • outlines help you summarize — it’s important to say it.
    • outline for 6 minute presentation, of course, just not necessarily a slide. But announce the logic of your presentation (like mapping in writing).
  • acknowledgements — problem, you’re audience doesn’t usually care about these.
    • leave it up during questions and answers. Acknowedge when relevant.
    • coauthors, present at beginning, say what each author did. That’s not the same as acknowedgments.
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