Tips for how to present your research information clearly and powerfully

Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Making Good Use of PowerPoint

Research finds its deepest meaning when it is shared with others.  Your final project in this class will be to share your research findings with the rest of the class using PowerPoint.  Below are some helpful hints for creating an effective presentation.

Tell a good story.

Unless you are experienced at public speaking and improvising, write out the script of your talk—or create a detailed outline of it—before you create the PowerPoint slides to illustrate it.
Like a good story, every presentation should have a beginning, middle, and end. This story must, above all, be relevant to your audience. In other words, the topic of your oral presentation isn’t, “This is what our paper was about.” Rather, the topic of your presentation should always be, “Here’s how some dimension of our paper affects you/us and what you/we can do about it.”

The beginning of your story should orient your audience to your subject and make them want to know more.

Jump right in and get to the point.
Begin with a startling fact, a compelling anecdote, or a challenging assertion that will grab your audience’s attention and make them want to know more.
Using a brief, prepared statement state the problem or topic your research addressed.
Briefly summarize the focus of your current talk. That is, your research may have been on the problem of disposing of obsolete computers safely, but the focus of your talk should emphasize how this problem affects your audience and the way various proposed remedies affect might affect your audience.
The middle of your story should provide details about your subject, emphasizing how the information relates to your audience.
Also ask, “how does our research information affect the average person (or citizen)?”  “In what way does this information require the involvement of the average person (or citizen)?”  The story you tell about your research must address the answer(s) to this all-important question.
Create a “story arc” that builds toward a climax.  That is, present information in a way that builds complexity gradually.  Start out with basic ideas and/or background, moving toward more complex ideas and speculation about what the future will hold by the end.
Look for “angles” in your story that will surprise or amaze or impress your audience. 
It’s your job to inform, amuse, or motivate your audience.  Take this job seriously.
Everything you say should generate audience interest and/or concern for the issues your research raises.  Every slide you create for your talk should illustrate key themes, ideas, or graphically communicate something about your topic. But your slides should be kept to a minimum. When you think you’re done creating all the slides for your talk, look at each one and ask “will this presentation make sense without this slide?”  If the answer is “yes,” cut it.
The end of your story should briefly remind your audience of the highlights of your talk and call on them to take some sort of action.
Concisely summarize the key concepts and the main ideas of your presentation.
Resist the temptation to add a few last impromptu words.
End your talk with a prepared summary statement or question. What do you want your audience to do with the information you’ve just presented? What do you want them to remember?
Consider alternatives to a closing slide that says, “Questions?” A summary of your key points, a cartoon, a team logo, or a company logo may be stronger.

You are giving a presentation, not a slideshow of your talk.

Once you know exactly what you’re going to say, then create PowerPoint slides to provide visually interesting illustrations of your remarks.
PowerPoint presentations are not stand-alone documents.
Each PowerPoint slide should underscore or reinforce what you are saying through simple, visually appealing statements or graphics.
Avoid putting your script or presentation outline on your slides.
Avoid, at all costs, turning your back to your audience and reading from your PowerPoint slides.

Your slides should be easy to read and understandable at a glance.

Readability is crucial.
Most presentation packages, PowerPoint included, feature “slide themes” that make use of the most legible fonts.  Use them.
Make sure your text is large enough to read from the back of the room.  To test the readability of your slides as you’re creating them, stand back seven feet from your computer.  If you can’t read the words on the screen from that distance, your audience will have a hard time reading them when you project them on a screen at the front of a room.
Keep the message of each slide simple. 
Put the big idea or theme you’re communicating in the header of each slide. 
Use complete sentences for each line in the body of your slide.  Keep the number of lines per slide to a minimum; aim for six or fewer lines.
Control the flow of information. 
If you show it onscreen, your audience is going to read it—and you don’t want them getting ahead of you.  Therefore, plan your presentation so each new point is displayed only when you are ready to discuss it.
Reveal each point only as you are ready to discuss it.
PowerPoint provides features that let you reveal one bullet point at a time. Use these.
Place charts or other graphics (including pictures) on later slides to be referenced after you’ve discussed the issues they are intended to illustrate.

Pay attention to the “rhetoric of design.”

PowerPoint offers all sorts of fades, swipes, flashing text, and other features intended to add “flash” to your presentations.  Avoid them!  Let your voice, posture, and the quality of your information provide the flash in your presentation. 
Remember these design basics:
Use a sans serif font for body text. Sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, or Calibri tend to be the easiest to read on screens.  Use a standard PowerPoint slide theme and resist the impulse to be original and change the standard fonts.
Use decorative fonts only for slide headers, and then only if they’re easy to read. Decorative fonts–calligraphy, German blackface, futuristic, psychotic handwriting, flowers, art nouveau, etc.–are hard to read and should be reserved only for large headlines at the top of the page. If you really must play with the fonts assigned to a given slide theme, it’s best to use classy serif fonts like Georgia or Baskerville.
Use a light, uncluttered background and dark text. This combination is easiest to read and takes advantage of the fact that most projection screens are white.  If, for some unavoidable reason, you must use a dark background–make sure your text stands out against it.  Use white, cream, light grey, or pastel font colors that you can see clearly standing seven feet back from your computer screen as you’re creating your PowerPoint presentation.  You may need to increase the font size two or three points to compensate for difficulty in reading light letters on a dark background.
Align text left or right. Centered text is harder to read and looks amateurish. Line up all your text to a right-hand or left-hand baseline–it will look better and be easier to follow.
Avoid clutter. Again, keep it simple.  Your slides should include no more than a headline, a few bullet points, and occasionally an image.  Busy backgrounds, lots of images, or dense paragraphs of text focus your audience on your slides instead of on your presentation.

Use images strategically.

Some argue that people are visual learners and the use of images communicates information more effectively in a PowerPoint-assisted presentation than words do.  They are not wrong, but images can easily distract from your presentation or confuse your point.  Better to use no images than to clutter your presentation with poorly selected images.
Here are some guidelines for selecting images.
Ask yourself: “what purpose will a graphic or picture serve in my talk?”  Any image you select should clearly and unambiguously communicate that purpose.
Use images only when they add important information or make a difficult point more concrete.
Make sparing use of clip-art and avoid stereotypes when choosing graphics or pictures (e.g. the female in a subservient role, the successful white man, the scary man of color).
Avoid repeating images. While it’s tempting to put university, team, or corporate logos on every slide, doing so diminishes their impact.  When using logos, use them on the first and last slides of your presentation to preserve their effectiveness.
Images are most effective when they illustrate a simple emotion, show relationships between quantities or ideas, show the steps in a process, or show what your spoken words mean for your audience. 
Again, keep it simple.  If you can’t communicate an idea with one exciting image or one compelling graphic per slide, you probably need to use words.
Make sure all charts and graphs are clearly labeled and that they clearly communicate the point you are making with them.

Practice! Practice! Practice!

You have a strict time limit: 20 minutes + 5 minutes for questions afterwards.  So, practice your talk until you and your group are certain that you can give your presentation in the allotted time.
Pay attention to the following as you practice your presentation.
Time your slides.  Part of every professional presentation is synchronizing the revelation of your slides with your talk.
PowerPoint and other presentations packages make it possible to set a timer automatically advances your slides. Even if you don’t use the automatic timer for your actual presentation, you can use this feature as you practice your presentation to get an idea of how long you should linger over each point and when to transition to the next point/next slide.
If you are revealing bulleted points one at a time, be sure you reveal each point “on cue.” 
When making a group presentation, assign someone to run the projector; practice working as a team to reveal slides and bullet points “on cue.”
Practice your speaking. Talk at a natural, moderate rate, speaking clearly and distinctly. 
Perform your speech by projecting your voice to the back of the room and changing its pitch and cadence to give its sound interest and prevent it from sinking into a monotone.  
Repeat critical information for effect.
Don’t read your slides aloud. Your audience can read them far faster than you can talk.
Practice your posture. Keep your eyes on the audience; don’t turn your back to the audience.
Use natural gestures. Don’t hide behind the lectern.
Avoid looking at your notes. Only use them as reference points to keep you on track. Talk, don’t read!
Practice your tone. When speaking before a group, “keep it real.”
Show enthusiasm, but don’t overdo it. Avoid overly dramatic gestures or a speech style that seems sing-song or insincere.
Ask, “How would I explain my research to friends and family?”  Use this authentic, friendly style when addressing your audience.
You are the expert, but avoid making your audience feel dumb.