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The slides you include in your presentation should support an overall narrative or "story." As such, you should define your story prior to making slides. What is the problem? Why is it important? How am I approaching it? What results do I have so far? What have we learned? etc.

It is often difficult to articulate a narrative after months at the lab bench and many scientists begin the presentation process by creating slides. Slide making can get you thinking. That's OK, as long as you step back at some point and articulate your story in some type of narrative form. Otherwise you will end up with a largely meaningless collection of slides. The slides-narrative process can be iterative.

After defining the narrative, the process of slide making may lead you off in unanticipated (by the narrative) directions. Perhaps you remember some really exciting data that doesn't fit with the narrative. Fine, include it, but pull back and rewrite your narrative. A coherent narrative is the essential building block of a presentation.

One of the advantages of the acetate slide era was that it was easy to call up the particular slide you wanted at a particular time. With PowerPoint a lot of speakers feel they need to click through all their slides to get to a particular slide. There is a better way.

1. Hit the slide sorter command on your presentation. You'll see the slides along with their corresponding number (the numbers are a little hard to see on the figure below, but they are just below the lower left corner of each slide).

2. Take a screen shot of your slides (cmd-shift-4)

3. Print out the screen shot and take the printout to your talk

4. At any point in the presentation mode, you can enter the number of the slide on the screen shot, hit return and you will get right to the slide

While lack of PowerPoint skills is hardly the major problem, here's a few rules to go by:

  • Don't compare objects with red and green. Lots of people have red-green color blindness.

  • Use sharp contrasts. Colors on the projection screen may look quite different than on your computer monitor.

  • Use a simple font that's easy to read, Arial bold is a good example. No fancy script type fonts

  • No logos or templates. A blank white sheet with black font is normally perfect. In a very large auditorium it can help to reverse things and have a very light font against a dark slide.

  • Write big. 24 Arial bold for text, 36 Arial bold for titles. 18 and 32 is passable. If for some reason (???) you need to put something up with a smaller font, point to that part of the slide and tell the audience they don't need to read it.

  • Try not to go to the edge of the slide, you never know if the projection will show the complete slide.

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