Effective Neurology Presentations

July 2, 2008

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By Barbara Scherokman, MD, FAAN, FACP



Author Disclosure

INTRODUCTION

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:

  • Who your audience will be (Are they practicing neurologists, patients, or a mix?)
  • Why the subject to be covered is of interest to your audience (Make the message relevant to the attendees)
  • What are the most important concepts your audience should learn (Try to limit these to the top three to five, so that they won’t be overwhelmed by too much detail or complexity)
  • How long the presentation should be (Determine the time with organizers—make sure you include time for questions and comments from the audience)

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.

Structure
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:

  • Introduction
    • Gain the audience’s attention
    • Establish the topic’s relevance
    • Identify the goals of your presentation
  • Body
    • Present three to five concepts or findings, stating the main point of each simply
    • Give examples and/or exceptions, for more elaboration
    • Restate the main point, then transition to the next concept
  • Conclusion
    • Summarize main points
    • Offer “takeaway” concepts or areas for future research
    • Encourage questions from the audience

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.

Slide Structure
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
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.

Tips for Selecting Slide Colors
  • Color scheme
    • Dark background (deep blue, dark gray, forest green)
    • Light titles and text (yellow, white)
    • Do not use red, green or blue lettering or figures
  • Graphic elements
    • Avoid patterned or gradient backgrounds
    • Avoid borders, symbols, ornaments and logos
  • Transitions
    • Avoid fancy transitions and fly-ins


Analysis

  • Not enough contrast to see text clearly
  • Background graphic is too distracting
  • Colorblind people will not be able to read the red text.
  • The following slide uses color more effectively for contrast, allowing for less distraction.



    Font
    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.

    Tips for Selecting Fonts and Text Formats
    • Font
      • Use sans-serif fonts (Helvetica, Arial, Optima)
      • Use the same font and size on every slide
    • Text
      • Use large size fonts for the text on slides
      • 44 points for titles
      • 28–32 points for subtext
    • Capital letters
      • Do not use all capitals
      • Capitalize the first letter of every word for titles
      • Capitalize only the first letter of the first word for phrases in the slide body
    • Shadow
      • Do not use font shadows
    • Underline
      • Do not use underlining


    Analysis

    • Both fonts are difficult to read
    • The upper line is all capitals
    • The lower line is too small

    These problems are corrected on the following slide.



    Slide Content
    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.

    Tips for Creating Good Slides
    • Use one concept per slide described with a few key words
    • Do not use published figures as slides, instead simplify tables and diagrams
    • Never use complete sentences or entire paragraphs
    • No more than 6 words per line and 6 lines per slide
    • Do not use slides that the audience cannot see
    • Have plenty of open space on your slides
    • Do not place text too close to the sides, top or bottom
    • Use progressive disclosure (that is, it “builds”: a slide that starts with the first bullet and shows more bullets as the presentation proceeds) for information that cannot fit on one slide
    • Limit the number of bullet slides you use
    • Use all horizontal format (landscape) with a ratio of 3:2


    Analysis

    • Too many different concepts on one slide
    • Not easy to understand or see
    • Could be broken down into separate slides to be more effective

    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.

    Tips for Creating Good Graphs and Charts
    • Use one dimensional bar graphs rather than three dimensional
    • Axis labels should be short and legible
    • Leave empty space around text and graphics
    • Convert tables of numbers into figures—see below




    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.



    Problems

    • Distracting three-dimensional effect
    • Axis legends not legible
    • Too crowded
    • Contrast is poor

    Below is a one-dimensional bar graph that is much more legible.



    DELIVERY SKILLS

    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:

    • Maintain good eye contact
    • Project enthusiasm—make purposeful gestures (do not pace the floor)
    • Speak clearly with a minimum of verbal fillers (“uh” or “you know”, do not read your slides)
    • Practice your talk before presenting
    REFERENCES

    Alley, Michael. The Craft of Scientific Presentations. Springer-Verlag, NY, 2003.

    Kroodsma DE, Byers BE. Suggestions for slides at scientific meetings.

    Preparing an Effective Scientific Presentation.

    Reynolds, Garr. Presentation Zen. New Riders, Berkeley, CA, 2008.

    Author Disclosure

    Dr. Scherokman has nothing to disclose.