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April 01, 2012

Training Tip 23: Slide Show Formatting Basics

Compliance with the following basic slide show formatting principles can make make your presentation appear much more professional:

Colors. Old fashioned transparencies, often referred to as overheads, worked much better as dark text on a light, preferably white background. Modern computer slide show projectors use a different technology. With slides, light colored text works best against a dark background.

What background color is best? Some authorities suggest trying to match colors to the emotional mood you are trying to create. For example:

Purple: Royalty, wisdom, spirituality, mystery

Green: Nature, environment, health, reptiles, insects

Gray: Conservative, practical, reliability, security, staid

See the Think Outside the Slide website for more.

Certainly there might be some benefit to this approach in some situations. However, as a practical matter I usually give these factors little consideration when preparing my own slide shows. I normally use the color combination that is generally acknowledged to have the highest legibility: Dark blue background, with light text, usually white or yellow. The most important thing for me is that the audience be able to read the slides easily. I'll use methods other than color if I feel I need to maniuplate the audience's emotions.

Whatever color scheme you choose, to improve legibility try to maximize the contrast between foreground and background. Light grey text on a medium gray background is a recipe for disaster. The Think Outside the Slide website has a color contrast calculator.

Font Followup. Last month we had a detailed discussion on selecting fonts for various projects, including slide shows. Selecting the right fonts gets us only part of the way home, though. Size is important. Some authorities suggest rules of thumb, even a 24 point minimum. However, point sizes of different fonts are not directly comparable, so I recommend a more pragmatic rule: Test the size of your font from a distance equal to the distance from the most remote seat in the auditorium you will be using. If you prefer a rule of thumb to actual testing, then you will usually be OK with fonts size 18 points or higher.

The ransom note effect is another font hazard. Keep the number of fonts to a minimum. 

Bullet Points. Bullet points have the salutory effect of improving quick comprehension. However, deploy them wisely. Squeezing too many bullet points on a slide creates a cluttered impression. No more than five bullet points per page is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Bullet Point Sub-Levels. Avoid having more than two levels of bullets on slides. In other words, you can have a bullet point, and one sub-level below them. If you need more sub-levels to convey complex ideas, it's better to break them into more slides.

Templates. Good slide show software provides templates (called "slide masters" in MS PowerPoint) to provide a consistent layout. I occasionally see presenters who do not use templates. It's nearly always a mistake. The templates are designed by professional designers. The defaults in a decent template will facilitate a professional appearance. A Google search on the phrase using powerpoint templates will find plenty of tutorials to get you started. You can override the template for a particular slide if you want, you can even modify the template if you need to, and you can even create your own templates. In any event, take advantage of templates to help make a good impression on your audiences.

Logos. Some presenters who have just learned how to edit templates or create their own succumb to the temptation to include their organization's logo on every slide. This is popular in businesses as a form of "branding." It is generally not advisable in the ethics training context. A logo on every page is usually overkill that limits your flexibility to structure subsequent slides. The best approach is probably to include the logo on the first slide, and maybe the last. If demands of unsophisticated supervisors or other reasons make you feel you absolutely must include the logo on every slide, make it small, except on the first slide and the last, where you can usually get away with more. Whatever you do, don't follow the example of one OGE conference presentation I saw that included no less than four different agency seals on every single slide, one for each of the four presenters!

Edited April 2, 2012 with various improvements.

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Posted by IEC Team Leader in Technology and Ethics, Training Aids, Training Tips | Permalink

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