Alternative Design

Michael Alley and various colleagues have been leaders in the search for a more effective slide format to substitute for PowerPoint's bulleted text approach. As part of this search, Alley and Neeley (2005b) undertook a four-year study that involved interactive critique sessions of more than 400 technical presentations. The result was an approach the two researchers call simply "Alternative Design." It includes the guidelines shown in Table 4.2.

The two most striking differences between traditional PowerPoint slides and Alternative Design are the use of a full sentence headline and the inclusion of supporting graphics in every slide. The contrast is striking when slides of both types are placed next to one another (Fig. 4.2). (Note also the difference between both of these slides and the same subject matter in Figure 4.1.)

When a speaker uses alternative design, it appears that the use of a sentence headline (rather than the traditional phrase) better directs the audience toward the slide's main point, both during the presentation and later when the slides are used as a set of notes. Furthermore, presenting details in a visual graphic (rather than with a bullet list) makes them more memorable. Although it sounds counterintuitive, this and other research shows that audiences actually pay more

Table 4.2. Guidelines for alternative slide design (based on Alley and Neeley, 2005b; Atkinson, 2005)

Style State each slide's main assertion in a sentence headline. (If you can't phrase an assertion, omit the slide.)

On every slide, include supporting evidence presented in a visual way (image, graph, table, etc.).

Avoid bullet lists and merely decorative images, including PowerPoint background art.

Include visually oriented "mapping slides" to keep audience oriented.

Layout Limit blocks of text, including headlines, to one or two lines.

Left-justify the headline in the slide's upper left corner.

Limit lists to two, three, or (rarely) four items.

Instead of bullets and sub-bullets, use vertical white space and indention to indicate separations and subordinate points.

Present listed items in parallel grammatical construction.

Avoid sub-lists, if possible.

Be generous with white space.

Typography Use the bold version of a sans serif typeface such as Arial, Helvetica, or Comic Sans MS.

Choose an appropriate type size for the room, generally 32-44 points for slide title, 28-32 points for slide headlines, 18-28 points for body text, and 14 points for reference listings.

Avoid any text in all capital letters.

Timing Limit number of slides so that at least 1 minute can be spent on each.

In a longer presentation (such as a 1-hour seminar) spend even more time per slide.

attention when less written information appears on a slide (Atkinson, 2005; Mayer, 2001).

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