Giving a class presentation can be stressful under the best of circumstances. However, the effective use of presentation software to organize and structure the content of your work can help ease your anxiety. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you develop your presentation.
Using Presentation Software Effectively
Visual Guidelines for Presentation Slides
Pictures or other illustrations are used for the following reasons:
NOTE: The use of funny cartoons, silly pictures, or other attention-grabbing graphics can help your audience feel more comfortable and engaged by adding some humor to your presentation. However, don't over do it! Under most circumstances, there will be a level of professionalism expected in how you present your work. This doesn't mean that your presentation should be bland and tedious, but always keep in mind that funny graphics are no substitute for good content; overdoing it can distract to the point of annoying your audience [think of this in terms of the person who tells the same joke over and over again].
Text Guidelines for Presentation Slides
Below are basic guidelines to remember when composing your presentation slides. Most of this is common sense, but cutting and pasting text, moving things around, and revising content over time can create errors, so keep these general guidelines in mind when reviewing the final draft of your presentation.
NOTE: Strategies to highlight a particular point during your presentation include capitalizing text, bolding text, or using a bright [but readable] color to contrast against the regular text. It's also appropriate to use italics to convey a direct quote. However, follow the general rule that less is more; use short declarative statements or as few words as possible to convey the meaning of what you are saying. Unlike research papers, presentation slides do not have to adhere to strict sentence grammar and paragraph rules.
Handouts are a great idea if your audience isn't too big, but you don't want to spend a lot of time distributing them or having audience members distracting each other while they pass around a pile of materials. If you do use handouts, think about whether you want to distribute them before or after your presentation. If possible, arrive early so you can place a copy on each chair. Another strategy to save paper is to leave a card on each seat listing the web site where the audience can access the content online. Use a link management platform like Bit.ly to shorten long URLs.
It is always a good idea to include space on the handout for people to take notes, a list of references, and your contact information so people can review them later or contact you if needed. You could also include some follow-up questions for discussion in your handouts [they can be referred to after the presentation to prompt questions from the audience or to spark a discussion]. Finally, if your handout is more than one double-sided page, staple them together before distributing so audience members aren't distracting themselves with trying to count whether they've got all the pages.
Using the Whiteboard
If there is a whiteboard behind you, put your name and contact information on the whiteboard. However, do this before your talk begins because writing on a board is time-consuming and you will have to turn your back on the audience and break your eye contact, which is never a good idea. If you must use a whiteboard at other points during the presentation, come prepared with the right markers [black or dark blue] and write words in large, legible handwriting so that people can read it from a distance [it is best to print rather than using cursive]. And, of course, remember to write things off to the side so you don't block people's view of what you just wrote while you're speaking!
Know the Space
If possible, know the room from the front before you have to give your presentation. The front of a classroom or auditorium feels very different from where you sit as a student. Also, if necessary, check the lighting so you avoid fiddling with the lights before your presentation. If available, it's best to darken the lighting above you, but keep the lights lit above the audience; the contrast helps your audience read the slides by eliminating glare. It is also useful to have someone sit at the very back of the room to give you get a sense of how loud you should talk and how big you should write if you write anything on a whiteboard behind you.
Appersona, Jennifer M., Eric L. Lawsa, and James A. Scepansky. “An Assessment of Student Preferences for PowerPoint Presentation Structure in Undergraduate Courses.” Computers and Education 50 (January 2008): 148-153; Bedford, Erin. Preparing Presentations With PowerPoint. GradHacker Blog. Inside Higher Education; Kountouzi, Barbara. PowerPoint DO's and DON'T's. Biomedical Library. University of Pennsylvania; Creating and Using Overheads. Kosslyn, Stephen M., Rogier A. Kievit, Alexandra G. Russell, and Jennifer M. Shephard. “PowerPoint presentation Flaws and Failures: A Psychological Analysis.” Frontiers in Psychology 3 (July 2012): Article 230; Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Designing an Effective PowerPoint Presentation: Quick Guide. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University; Giving an Oral Presentation. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Hallewell, Madeline J. and Natasa Lackovic. “Do Pictures `Tell' a Thousand Words in Lectures? How Lecturers Vocalise Photographs in Their Presentations.” Higher Education Research and Development 36 . (2017): 1166-1180;Inoue-Smitha, Yukiko and Shuyan Wang. “College-based Case Studies in Using PowerPoint Effectively.” Cogent Education 3 (2016 ): 1-15.
Richard Mayer describes twelve research-based principles on the design and organization of multimedia presentations that support student learning. Although intended for faculty who are using prerecorded multimedia tools for class lectures, these principles can also be adapted to help students who are designing slides as part of their class presentations. Collectively, these principles provide a way to critically evaluate the overall quality of the multimedia elements used during your presentation. Think about these as you practice giving your presentation.
Mayer, Richard E. "Research-based Principles for Designing Multimedia Instruction." In Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science Into the Curriculum. Victor A. Benassi and Catherine E. Overson, eds. (Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire Scholar's Repository, 2014), pp. 59-70; Mayer, Richard. Multimedia Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001; Mayer, Richard E., Julie Heiser, and Steve Lonn. "Cognitive Constraints on Multimedia Learning: When Presenting More Material Results in Less Understanding." Journal of Educational Psychology 93, 1 (2001): 187–198; DeBell, Andrew. How to Use Mayer’s 12 Principles of Multimedia [Examples Included]. Water Bear Learning Inc., 2020.