Follow simple guidelines

The "how" of slide production is less important than the "what." The mechanics of using text-based presentation software are fairly straightforward, and rely heavily on default templates to guide you through the steps involved. Follow the suggestions in Table 4.1, and it will be hard to go wrong.

Table 4.1. Creating an effective electronic presentation (based on material from University of Georgia Center for Teaching and Learning)

Area of concern Guidelines

Content Include only one idea, point, or comparison per slide.

Present concisely worded material in outline form. Include some interactive elements (e.g., questions, polls) to keep audience engaged.

Format Limit slide titles to 2-5 words.

Use horizontal orientation rather than vertical. Left-justify text and left-align bullet points. Use color with caution.

Graphic aids Use charts or graphics rather than data tables.

Place graphics off-center to the left (leaves more room for text and leads eye to text). Simplify graphics.

Things to avoid Complex drawings lifted directly from paper publications. Extraneous or excessive information. Lengthy data tables.

Gratuitous sound effects and slide transitions. Slides read directly to the audience.

Back up plan Know at least two ways to advance the slides, in case one method doesn't work. Know how to black out the screen to draw audience attention back to you.

Know how to get directly to any slide in the presentation. If technology fails, spend no more than 5 minutes maximum trying to fix it.

Be prepared to speak directly to the audience without any aids.

Visual elements of text, tables, and figures

Simplicity is classy.

Appropriate typefaces, fonts, and other text features are all part of communicating visually, whether you create an overhead, a 35 mm slide, or a presentation software screen. Once, these decisions were the domain of graphic artists, printers, and typographers. Today, with personal computers, even children use fonts and typesetting. However, few people use them effectively.

Mainstream type fonts are of two basic kinds, serif and sans serif. A serif is a "foot," one of the crosslines at the bottom or top of a letter such as I. Serif fonts have these crossbars; sans serif fonts do not. Helvetica and Arial are two common sans serif typefaces; the block strokes that form their letters are straight up and down.

Type also comes in two kinds of dimensional spacing: monospace and variable width (proportional). With monospace fonts such as Courier, every letter occupies the same amount of space, just as they did on an old typewriter. Proportional typefaces have letters of varying widths, more akin to traditional printing styles.

Most conventionally published journals use a proportional serif font style such as New York or Times for their basic text. (Electronic journals often use only sans serif fonts.) Serif fonts are often considered the most readable, because the serifs help guide the eye from letter to letter. Serif typefaces include the oldest type styles, and thus are the most familiar. They are also considered more formal.

Type size is based on points, an old system of measuring type that has carried over into the digital age. For most typefaces, the size in points approximates the distance between the tops of the tallest letters (which may be either the capitals or the lowercase letters with ascenders, like b and h) and the bottoms of the letters with descenders, like p and q. For this reason, a given point size may change in measurement when a different font is selected.

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