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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Fly In, Box Out, Checkerboard Down – Oh No, not another PowerPoint Show!

PowerPoint has become the standard product for presentations. Whether it is used to create the transparencies or use in an electronic slide show, this application has developed a life and religion of its own and its followers proclaim its virtues.

On the other hand, we have those who make a career out of attending conferences who groan and squirm at every click of the mouse that executes flying text and twirling letters, not to mention sound effects that accompany every movement on the screen. So who is right?

PowerPoint is definitely an effective means to an end. But students, don’t make it the effective means to the end of your good grade! Here are a few tips from some experts for using PowerPoint effectively. Note: “Experts” differ on some of these, but for the academic purpose of student presentations, the following are good starters:

  • Use a sans serif font, like Arial, for readability from a distance or on the web.
  • Use only 2 type styles on a single slide (Bold, underline, shadow, etc. Avoid using italics – it is easy to read on the computer screen but difficult to read when projected).
  • White space is good – it is important because it gives the eye a rest.
  • Use 7-10 words per line of type and no more than 6 lines per slide.
  • Choose a type face that suits the topic (ex: a serious presentation about drug or child abuse should not use a whimsical casual font).
  • Avoid the use of all caps in headlines – one or two words, YES; entire sentences-no!
  • Continuity is important: Choose a design theme and adhere to this throughout your presentation. This “theme” can be a simple look that you create from scratch through an effective use of graphics or it can be a design template within PowerPoint- just make sure you look carefully at each slide after you apply the template.
  • Choose your design template based on your content and the purpose of your presentation.
  • Keep the slide transitions simple – no need to use them all. Choose one or two. In this way, your audience will not be waiting with baited breath wondering what dynamic effect will bring in the next point or slide. You want the transition to be part of a natural evolution of presentation, not a show in itself.

Let’s not forget color. Here are a few guidelines for the use of color.

  • Light text color on a dark background, a bright yellow on a dark blue or navy background is the most effective combination
  • OR a dark text (navy) on a light background (light yellow) can be used.
  • Avoid the use of Red text because red has a tendency to “bleed” into surrounding colors. It can be used with caution for one or two words for emphasis, but it has negative connotation – one of warning.
  • To emphasize importance for a word or phrase, use the deepest value of the text color.
  • When selecting the color for text and background, do not use colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel because there is too much contrast. They fight each other for recognition. A bad color combination is red text on a green background – this puts a strain on the muscles of the eye.
  • Avoid backgrounds with obvious patterns – the patterns conflict with the text.

Finally, the purpose of any presentation is to Inform or Influence your audience. In preparing your presentation, rank the major elements of your side (the content and graphics) as to importance and present those so that their importance is obvious to the viewer. Ask yourself, “What do I want the viewer to see first?” You answer this question through your choice font size, color, and through the placement of graphics.

Most of all, remember: Do not let the messenger (PowerPoint) outshine the message (Your content).

If you are interested in learning more about good presentation design, search the Internet for Effective Use of PowerPoint and you will find many sites that address this issue.

You can also access online tutorials for using Power Point from the Microsoft Assistance Center. Click on Microsoft PowerPoint 2000 in the left menu window to choose the topic.

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This entry was posted on March 1, 2005 by in Techniques, Tools.

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