Thoughts on Successful PowerPoint Presentations
As I prepare my own conference presentation for the upcoming annual meeting of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) in Charleston, SC, and recall the many presentations I have attended, I have been reflecting on some of the characteristics of successful formal presentations.
For architectural historians, visuals are essential and using them in a formal presentation should enhance and complement the content of your text. It is critical that every image packs as much of a punch as possible. Make the images as large as possible and fill the screen; there is no benefit to using the valuable visual real estate for space around the images or for a repeating graphic header. Crop images to remove unnecessary or distracting borders or to “zoom” in on the key focus of the image. Create the illusion of some animation by repeating a slide and then adding some highlighting, arrow, circle, or other technique of drawing attention to the whatever it is you wish your audience to focus on. To relate a new image to a previous one, consider “stacking” it on top of the previous image so that part of it is still visible around the edges. PowerPoint allows for the presentation of multiple images simultaneously on a slide in a way previously impossible with even dual 35mm slide projectors. Make sure that the images are large enough to be legible; if conveying a sense of the great frequency of some phenomenon, then the legibility of each image is not essential, but the pattern created by group is.
Text is another vital component, when used in moderation. A title slide is important, in that it can prepare the audience for your presentation while you are being introduced or while some technical issue is being addressed. It should include at a minimum your name, professional affiliation and your talk title. Within the body of the presentation, captions are helpful, especially for unfamiliar image subjects. Including a source for the image, in a small font discretely located in a lower corner is useful, but not essential. Avoid large amounts of text.
As we transition to different kinds of screens for presentations, laser pointers cannot be counted on to be useful. Plasma screens do not show the laser dot very effectively. Build highlighting, arrows or other devices to draw attention to a part of an image into your presentation.