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Designing presentations

Presentation software

A bowl of chalk

There are lots of ways by which you can present information to an audience, and not all of them involve projecting text and images from a software application. It's a common approach, though, and on the tabs below are the main applications people tend to use:

Much used (not always well), PowerPoint has some great features and can be used for a lot more than bullet-point lists. You can even use it to make posters!

Google Slides has many of the features of PowerPoint. It lends itself to online collaboration, and there's a Q&A tool that can be used to add an element of interactivity to your presentation.

Prezi has been widely used as an alternative to PowerPoint. It's great if there's a non-linear structure or map behind what you're talking about. But be careful not to make your audience sick with the transitions you use.

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Evidence-based presentations

If you're writing an academic presentation, it's important to bear in mind that there probably won't be time to include everything there is to say on a topic. You'll need to prioritise what are your key messages

  • What must your audience know?
  • What's good to know?
  • What's just nice to know?

Be sure to include all of the musts, as many of the goods that you can, and, if there's room, some nice!

Ask yourself: Who is your message aimed at?

Is it adults? Children? Academics? The public? Your answer may inform the content and the style, and will probably determine how much you have to explain to your audience.

Think about the sources you've seen being used in other peoples' presentations: lecturers... conference speakers... 

Useful sources

Often you'll need to use facts, figures, statistics and definitions... Focus your searching on the key messages you want to cover.

You'll have limited space to quote material, so only select the most authoritative sources...

Designing presentations

If you're using slides to present, you need to think about what goes on the screen, and how it looks. The aesthetics of a slide deck are a personal thing, and fashions and orthodoxies inevitably change. But there are certain principles of presentation to consider:

  • Avoid lots of text - it's hard to read a mass of text on a slide

  • Write in a size that everyone can see. It's not an opticians' exam, so avoid going smaller than 20pts, and avoid fussy fonts.

  • Don't go breaking copyright in pursuit of a pretty slide when there are free and Creative Commons materials you can use.

  • Bullet lists are not a crime (they definitely have their uses), but they are a bit of a cliché!

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Delivering presentations

How you present can be almost as personal as how you design, but there are some things worth considering:

  • Don't just read your slides
  • Address the audience, not the screen
  • Don't draw attention to your mistakes - just move on
  • Speak up (and be prepared to use a microphone if one is available)
  • Pace yourself - you can't get an hour of presentation into a ten minute slot so don't even try
  • If you can engage your audience, all the better