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Death by Powerpoint.

Written by Dr. Luke Farmery · Wednesday 20th February 2013

Introduction

Computerised presentations are a part of every medical student's / junior doctor's life. Sometimes we give them, often we sleep through them and occasionally we even listen to them. They are the backbone of medical education besides traditional bed-side teaching, having rapidly replaced the now extinct OHR (Over Head Projector) acetate-sheet presentations of years gone-by.

The problem is that Doctors and medical students often struggle with creating and presenting coherent slides. This is most probably due to the general apathy most have for actually talking in front of an audience, or because those asked to present are often taken unawares, and therefore have little time to prepare. In these times of avolition or last-minute hurriedness, people often reach out for the industry standard of presentation production: PowerPoint.

PowerPoint is the most commonly used tool for making presentations because it is simple to use and comes with a whole load of free templates. Unfortunately, most of these templates look disgusting. If a template doesn't look disgusting, then it is most certainly overused and you run the risk of having a presentation that looks identical to the student before you at the weekly seminar teaching - a scenario that can be easily likened to turning up to a lecture wearing exactly the same clothes as another person in the room, which would just be awkward. Another problem with PowerPoint is the phenomenon of 'Death By Powerpoint,' which refers to the general boredom and apathy experienced by those who have received way too much information in way too short a space of time via a series of over-cramped, poorly stylised slides.

But why on earth do you care?

People should care about 'Death By Powerpoint' because if your presentations cause people to zone out, then you are not getting your message across. And if you aren't getting your message across then you. are. not. presenting. at. all. (take a moment to reflect on that particularly Zen statement).

Let me explain using a metaphor, if I am a sales person and I present my talk with well-designed slides, in an enthusiastic and well-rehersed manner to an appropriate audience I will make more sales than if I present using poorly designed slides at the last minute. Similarly, in Medicine if I present well designed, aesthetic slides I am more likely to convey accurate information to my colleagues that may very well be retained and enjoyed by all involved.

Of course, this blog assumes a degree of presentation-related Altruism. The recommendations I am about to make require you to 'step out of the mould' and say 'no' to poor presentations. They require you to forgive others for the presentations they have inflicted on you in the past. You will 'lead by example'.

Unfortunately I am not capable (or qualified) to make you an excellent designer, nor can I give you the motivation to feel as passionately about design aesthetics as i do when all you've got to do is slam some slides together for your monthly journal club. But what I can do is present to you a series of resources that might tempt you away from the horrific PowerPoint templates that currently infest medical student seminars and young doctors presentations.

If you really couldn't care less, then I suggest using Prezi, a website where you can make quite eccentric looking presentations rapidly and for free. The only problem is that Prezi became cliched even before its debut and you risk inflicting travel sickness on your poor audience, what with all the funky zooming in and out of slides that occurs during a typical Prezi presentation (you will know what I mean if you've ever seen one).

So, without further ado, here are my top 5 tips for making your presentations look smoother and more polished... Irrespective of whether the contents of your talk are any good.

Step One: Typography

Get yourself a good font. Typography is really important, when you speak to someone you use a variety of tones and gestures to convey the meaning of the words you are using. Fonts are effectively the printed version of your tone and gestures. Good font choice can help give 'umph' to a particular point in your presentation and help give character to what you are saying. Of course, it's important to remain professional so 'Wingbats' might not be your first choice, but anything that you could envisage on a nice business card is probably a good shout. Fonts are usually something you have to pay for if you want anything beyond the set given to you when you download Microsoft Word (for example). However, there are whole hosts of free fonts available from sites like [dafont])(http://www.dafont.com). The key is to be willing to trawl through these sites to find fonts that are actually useful! Beware those fancy fonts unless you know your audience can take it!

If you are stuck on choosing a font, which is a common complaint, then maybe this flow diagram will help!

Oh yeah, and never ever use Comic Sans. Ever.

Step Two: Colour

A good font isn't going to get you very far on its own. You need a solid colour scheme to bring your presentation alive. It seems blunt to say, but some people are not very good at picking colours that go well with one another. This is well evidenced in PowerPoint presentations where the yellow-text-on-blue-background is far too common. I mean yeah, in theory blue and yellow 'compliment' each other, but thats where the relationship between blue and yellow should stay... in theory. Luckily there are some useful colour palette websites available out there, which will match colours for you...

Step Three: Structure

After you've picked a sensible font and a suitable colour scheme, it's time to think about the structure or layout of your slides. It's absolutely crucial that you avoid putting too much information on your slides even if you are giving an academic presentation. An overloaded slide is about as useful as a dead cat. At this point, some of you may be tempted to resort to those dodgy PowerPoint default templates but there is another way! There are sites out there that have some pretty fresh templates you can use and they are completely free! They are sure to add a bit of spice to your slide's aesthetic.

There will probably be a separate tutorial on this in the future, but basic principles apply. As a general rule stick to Left Alignment *and avoid *Central Alignment like the plague.

Step Four: Imagery

Images help to spice up a presentation, but try and keep them related to the topic. Google Images is a great resource but remember that most images will be a low resolution and will be poorly suited to being shown blown up full-size on a presentation screen. Low resolution images are a presentation killer and should be avoided at all costs.

For high-quality images try sites like Flikr or ShutterStock.

Step Five: Consider Software

The interface of Powerpoint does not lend itself well to having images dropped in and played with to make nice looking layouts. I would recommend Adobe Photoshop for this kind of work, but not everyone will have access to such expensive software. Cheap alternatives include Photoshop Elements amongst others.

Once you have created slides in Photoshop it is quick and easy to save them as JPEG files and drag and drop them into PowePoint. Perhaps that can be a tutorial for another time...

Step 5: Additional Stuff

Presentations typically lack significance, structure, simplicity and rehearsal. Always check over your presentation and ask 'is this significant to my audience?' Always structure your presentation in a logical manner and (it is recommended you) include a contents slide and summary slide to tie things together. Keep your verbal commentary simple and keep the slides themselves even more simple than that. Simplicity is crucial. Once you have produced your beautiful slides with wonderful content you will want to practice them. Practice, Practice, Practice. Rehearsing even just once can make a good presentation even better.

Conclusion:

This blog entry has covered some basic points on how to improve your medical presentations and has given a series of useful online resources. Putting effort into designing a presentation takes time and motivation, for those without these vital ingredients we recommend Prezi (whilst it is still relatively new and fresh). Perhaps the rest of you will only use these tips for the occasional important presentation. However, I hope that soon after you start approaching presentations with a little more respect for their importance and potential, you too will find a desire to produce high-quality, aesthetically pleasing talks.

LARF - Mood: damn tired and feeling guilty that I just wrote this blog instead of revising haematology notes.

Responses

Mr Raymond Buick
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Paediatric Surgeon
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Posted over 6 years ago
Very good I remember when we all used 'slides', and these were shown on a fairly small screen, even in a large auditorium. The advice I got at that time was the 5 by 7 rule. 5 lines with (about) 7 words per line How things have changed
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(3)
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Dr Mike Davis
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Non Medical User
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Posted over 6 years ago
Some good ideas here. Can I also suggest you look at The Zen of Presentation (Google will help here) which is an excellent exploration of design principles for the non-designer. Among other things it gives images primacy - in terms of what is projected -
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(2)
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Zoltán Cserháti
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Medical Student
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Posted over 6 years ago
Luke, it's amazing! Seriously! [Here it is my question](https://www.meducation.net/knowledge_bank/questions/192-How-to-prepare-a-presentation) with some good tips!
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(1)
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Mary
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Medical Student
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Posted over 6 years ago
This is excellent! Thank you for the suggestions on where to find different layouts and softwares
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(1)
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Jeremy Walker
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Site Administrator
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Posted over 6 years ago
This is brilliant - thanks! Really look forward to reading more from you.
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(0)
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