The elements of presentation style
I have noticed numerous mistakes that people commonly make in doing presentations. Some of these observations are reported here, in no particular order. Please read this file carefully, get the rules here by-heart, and you will produce better presentations.
You may like to also look at other guidelines documents.
Do you need a slideshow or do you just do a talk without a slideshow?
It's not obvious that you always need a slideshow. Audiences have become jaded with slideshows and particularly low quality slideshows. You will get to make eye contact if you do a talk without a slideshow. This might often be a more effective tool for getting an idea across than having them look at a slideshow. If you don't have complex elements (equations / graphs / images / tables) in a slideshow, then it's quite likely you are better off without a slideshow.
Features of the slideshow
- The worst imaginable slideshow is (a) a series of slides done with Microsoft Powerpoint (b) with some fancy slide transitions or such gimmickry (c) each slide containing a long series of bullet points (d) each bullet containing long sentences/paragraphs.
Just don't do it.
- !(a) For good quality typesetting use Latex Beamer. Most of my suggestions on typesetting applies to slideshows also.
- !(b) Only teenagers do slide transition gimmickry.
- !(c) Slides should be brief. If you're filling up the page, you're doing wrong.
- !(d) Bullets should be short. Do not write full sentences in the slideshow. Have a few words there to jog your memory and to leave an imprint on the audience. The fewer words on your slideshow, the better it is.
- Start a show by posing a question, and summarise the entire argument you're going to make. Then go through the steps, and summarise once again at the end.
- Use a diverse array of graphical elements. It keeps audiences from falling asleep. Use images, cartoons, equations, tables, etc.: anything at all to break the horror of a slideshow filled with bullets and sentences. When you're using images, see this for guidelines on how to use images right.
- Use huge images / charts that fill up the screen so people don't have to squint. Lines on charts should be fat and visible.
Often, you might see an image in a paper that you want to use. The paper is generally a PDF file and the graph or diagram embedded in it is a vector object. You can do a screen capture which will give you a bitmap object. To maximise quality, enlarge the display of the page in the PDF reader till this is as big as possible. Do this on a high quality screen so that the pixel density is as high as possible. Then capture the image from screen and save it as a bitmap file. This can be inserted into your slideshow.
- Most slideshows are a story that is told in a few parts. As an example, you might be presenting a paper, and the paper has four sections. If so, right at the outset, tell the audience that there are these four parts. And, put a fullpage slide with nothing but the section name to advertise section transitions. At every point, keep telling the audience: This is where we are, and this is what is going to come next. A mere sequence of slides is much harder for an audience to consume.
- When you write a .tex file using (say) beamer for a slideshow, you do NOT put floating objects into it. Please be sure to understand the basic concepts of what is a `table' and a `figure' in latex, and why you should never ever use these in a slideshow.
Features of the talk
- Look at the audience, never at the screen.
- Never ever read out what's on the slide. You don't even have to deal with a slide in the order of what's on the slide. Dance around the stuff on the screen with spontaneity. It keeps audiences awake.
- Another awkward style that some people have is to first read a terse bullet from the screen and then launch into an extemporaneous paragraph on it. Don't. Speak a smooth talk.
- Never exceed your time. If you're not competent enough to keep time, why should audiences trust you on your message? And, it irritates the next guy who's going to speak after you and the conference sesson chairman. If the conference is running late, try to take a few minutes less than what's allocated to you.
Ajay Shah, 2008