As students, you’ve definitely had the experience of giving a presentation for a class project before.
You know how nerve-wracking it gets: as if standing up in front of a room full of your peers isn’t hard enough, you have the unenviable task of trying to impress them with your knowledge of the subject you are presenting—and keeping them and your professor interested in what you are saying all at the same time.
A good presentation will incorporate awesome presentation slides that capture your audience’s attention while helping sink your message deep into their minds.
In the following sections, we will go over five presentation slide pitfalls to avoid, five tips to incorporate in your slides, and some important resources you can access for better presentations.
5 Presentation Slide Don’ts
Avoid the following:
Too Many Slides
How much information do you think your audience will retain if you bombard them with one slide right after another? Think about how much you retained when one of your professors delivered one piece of information right after the other, without giving you time digest what you’ve just heard.
It is generally suggested to present at least one slide per minute so your audience won’t not get overwhelmed.
A useful rule of thumb is to have no more than 10 slides for 20 minutes of presentation time, with fonts no smaller than 30 pt., to help your audience retain the knowledge you’ll be imparting.
Using Only One Slide
Even if you can sum up your presentation within a single slide, don’t! This also mean you’ll use too few slides—at least not enough to get your message across clearly.
While brevity is important when it comes to presentations, trying to fit too many words and pictures into a single slide will make things unclear.
To avoid this mistake, ask yourself, “If I can’t read it or see it clearly, then how will my audience understand what I am trying to convey?”
Too Much Text
This is one of the most common mistakes you see in university presentations and it is understandable—you want to convey as much information as needed without having to say too much yourself.
In other words, you want the slides to do the talking for you.
Your slides, however, are there to support what you are saying. You are the one who has to do the actual talking; if you put too much text on a slide it will become unreadable.
It is best to follow the 6-6-6 presentation slide rule[i]—six words per bullet, six bullets per image, and no more than six-word slides in a row—as it has proven itself quite useful for creating engaging slides for university presentations across a broad spectrum of subjects.
Not Choosing Stock Images (Stock Photos) Wisely
Nothing will kill an otherwise interesting presentation quicker than standard generic photos you have randomly chosen from Google images.
Free stock images are the easiest and least expensive way to acquire graphic images and photos. If not chosen wisely, however, they can make your presentation look outdated and lazy.
If you have seen the image used before, it’s likely others have too. When choosing visual images for your slides, make sure that they are as original as possible and they help clarify the point you are trying to make. One example is to use an image of bees to signify teamwork instead of the standard team-gathered-around-the-table image.
Too Much Sound or Animation
Using sound effects and graphic animations can make your presentation stand out, but too much of them will take attention off of your main message. When choosing a sound effect, you should contemplate what mood you want to invoke in your audience as it pertains to the text or visual images on the slide.
Audio should support your visuals and text and not take attention off of it. As for animation, two to three animations will be enough to interrupt any possible monotony and keep your audience awake.
5 Presentation Slide Do’s
Now that you know what not to do with your slides, let’s take a look at what you should put into them to make them look awesome!
Use a Proven Presentation Template
Why reinvent the wheel?
When sitting through presentations, try and remember which ones caught your attention the most and replicate their structures and designs within your slides.
Awesome presentations take audiences on an emotional journey, instead of just offering a bunch of data and stats. A good design template will do just that—evoke an emotional response from your audience that you cannot achieve through the written word alone. It will also help your audience retain information better.
Only 10 to 20 percent of information is retained through text, and up to 65 percent is retained through visual images, graphics, and design[ii].
To take the guesswork out of how to design your slides, get some inspiration from the following examples:
- 60+ Presentation Templates
- Canva Presentation Templates
- Powerpoint & Google Slides Presentation Templates
The above professional presentation slide templates will cut down on the trial and error of designing the perfect slide presentation yourself.
Use Consistent and Contrasting Fonts & Colours
So which one is it, consistency or contrast?
The answer is both. Here is why:
You don’t want every slide to look the same because that will bore your audience. At the same time, you don’t want to create a “salad” of text and visuals that will overstimulate them to the point they have no idea what your presentation is about.
The right amount of consistency in your fonts and colour schemes with the least amount of repetitiveness is what you want to shoot for. This is especially true when it comes to colours because the ones that look good in your mind will not always look so good on a monitor.
Choose colours that are not too bright, not too contrasting, and consistent enough to not confuse your professors or audience members.
Another good tip is to pick no more than two to four colours or shades of colours for your slides. This will give your presentation the highest possible balance between contrast and consistency.
Use Visuals to Highlight Ideas and Data Points
As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”.
Therefore, incorporate pictures, GIFs, charts, graphs, and clip art within your slides to relay 1,000 messages without having to write a thousand words. Charts and graphs are especially useful when it comes to relaying relationships and comparisons among multiple sets of data points and showing how things change over a specific timeframe.
Here are a couple of key points to remember when it comes to using visual imagery for your slide presentation:
When you use a visual on a slide, use less text, as this will diminish the emphasis on the message you are trying to convey. If you need more than two images on a slide to highlight a particular message, then you may want to reconsider your choices.
If a picture says a thousand words, then a video says a million! 70 percent of video content is retained by viewers[iii], and more likely to be shared than visual or textual content.
By incorporating videos into your slides, you will not only make your presentation stand out among other presenters who only use text and visuals for their slides but will derive many other benefits such as the ones listed below:
- Simultaneous auditory and visual stimulation (interest is increased)
- More discussion and participation (engagement is increased).
- Breaks in monotony (rest for presenter and audience).
Just be sure to keep the videos on your slides short (2-3 minutes) and make sure they are relevant to your topic and not repetitive, or it will look like you are just trying to run out the clock by inserting a video into your presentation instead of adding value.
End Your Presentation with a Summary Slide
Even if your presentation is short and to the point, it is always a good idea to include a summary slide at the end of it.
A summary slide will make it easier for your professor and peers to remember your key points and main ideas.
Use the following tips to help you write a good summary slide:
- Decide which slides are most relevant to your main message and which bullet points or lines on those slides will support it the best.
- Don’t repeat these main points but paraphrase them so as not to sound repetitive and redundant.
- Always follow the order of ideas you originally included in your slides for your summary.
While the above information will help you create slides that will allow your presentation to stand out from those of your peers, they do not cover the vast world of the art and science of presentation design and structure.
Here are some resources that may be of use:
This blog is dedicated to presentation designs and includes instructions and examples of how to create simple yet engaging presentations using PowerPoint.
Although this podcast primarily focuses on creating presentations from a corporate perspective, the advice and examples given can be used for university presentations as well, particularly the simple but highly effective KWICK five-step method for producing memorable PowerPoint slides.
This video clip talks about some of the common mistakes and misuses made in presentations from a comedian’s point of view.
We hope these pointers have been of use. Use them to create engaging slides for your next class presentation. Your professor and peers will be happy you did, and you will be happy with the feedback you receive from them!