By Barbara Scherokman, MD, FAAN, FACP
Behind every successful neurology presentation lies solid research, thoughtful preparation . . . and well designed visual materials. Grabbing the audience’s attention with color, contrast, and good layout enhances the effect of your presentation. Your research might be compelling and your presence at the podium might be engaging, but poor visuals can turn off your audience in a matter of moments.
An effective presentation offers a clear introduction of the topic (“what you are planning to say”), and underscores that topic in the body of the lecture--both with your spoken text and the visuals you present (“how you present what you want to say”). When planning a presentation, first determine the following:
Keeping these points in mind, you should be able to coordinate the spoken text of your presentation with the visual content you will show. This will help you create the most effective and informative arrangement of materials for your audience.
Just as any good piece of writing is built around the framework of a Beginning, Middle, and End, so too are good presentations structured along a clear, three-part outline. Organize your presentation into corresponding sections:
In each part of your presentation, try to bring in concepts that you have just discussed, as well as forecasting to later points within your talk. This will stimulate your audience and offer the sense that they are participating with you through the well organized structure of the presentation.
Grabbing Hold of the Audience’s Attention
Organization and use of varied materials is key to creating a good presentation. Typically, an audience loses interest after about 15 minutes, irrespective of the topic being discussed.
To combat this loss of attention, change the format of your presentation every 15 minutes in order to encourage new interest and bring the audience into a participatory (not passive) mode with you. Engage your audience with varied audiovisual material, such as PowerPoint slides that switch from static images to audio or video. Allow “open spaces” for your audience to consider questions, self-tests, and brainstorming that involve them. Alternate the graphics content you show, from case studies and charts to engaging images related to your research, or video or audio content that supports your topic.
When making slides, simplicity is the most important concept to keep in mind. The choice of color, typeface (font), and content can significantly alter the effectiveness of slide presentations. In order for your slides to be effective, they should be pertinent, understandable, interesting, and legible. Create slides that enhance your discussion rather than detract from it.
Determine the basic structure of your slides. This decision greatly affects the legibility of your slides. The “slide master” feature in your software program can create a consistent slide design for all of the slides in your presentation.
Color scheme is a crucial design element for producing effective slides. Slides used by presenters may be colorful and striking . . . but they can also be unreadable: the greater the number of colors used per slide, the more likely it is that each slide will be difficult to read. The color scheme you choose for your slides should include selections for background, main title, subtitles, text, and highlighted text.
Remember: the more contrast between text and background, the easier your slides will be to read. Other important design elements are graphic elements and transitions.
Analysis The following slide uses color more effectively for contrast, allowing for less distraction. Font Analysis
These problems are corrected on the following slide. Slide Content Analysis
Choose a typeface (font) that will make your slides legible. To test if the font size is sufficient, stand six feet from your monitor to see if you can read your slides.
Your slides will never cover as much information as your spoken text. Too many slides, containing excessively complex (often illegible) information, will make for an unsuccessful presentation. Remember that lectures allow the presenter to synthesize information into broad concepts; the details can be presented in handouts for the audience to read at a later time.
The following slide uses color more effectively for contrast, allowing for less distraction.
These problems are corrected on the following slide.
Graphs and Charts
Graphics should be large and simple enough for the audience to quickly comprehend important concepts being depicted. Avoid clutter by eliminating all unnecessary items.
As visible in the second slide above, the outlier of two seizures at six hours is much easier to see from the graph than from the first table, which presents only numbers in a grid.
Below is a one-dimensional bar graph that is much more legible.
About 95% of communication is nonverbal, and your delivery skills can either enhance a lecture or detract from it. Try to use the following techniques to keep listeners interested in what you have to say:
Alley, Michael. The Craft of Scientific Presentations. Springer-Verlag, NY, 2003.
Kroodsma DE, Byers BE. Suggestions for slides at scientific meetings.
Reynolds, Garr. Presentation Zen. New Riders, Berkeley, CA, 2008.Author Disclosure
Dr. Scherokman has nothing to disclose.