Giving a Talk:

Preparing Slides

One slide, one simple idea.

As already stated, each slide shown in your presentation should have a simple message. It is important not to crowd too many ideas onto a slide as this inhibits understanding. Text is best presented in point form. Try for the maximum impact with the fewest words---like newspaper headlines. If you write complete sentences, you will invariably simply recite them to the audience word for word, tuning your audience out completely. Using point form on your slides, you can elaborate verbally without distracting your audience from your main message.

[Eye Exam Figure]

Avoid overcrowded ``eye exam'' slides. And show the whole slide at once! Covering up parts of your slide with opaque paper is no help---the audience will just get curious about what's hiding underneath, and lose track of your message.
     Try summarizing each slide on a single line, e.g., in a box at the bottom of the slide, or by posing a simple question at the top of each slide. This will allow audience members with wandering attention spans to ``recalibrate'' themselves with your presentation.

Use lots of pictures, few equations.

Pictures are worth thousands of words---the more pictures you have, the better. My colleague Glenn Gulak suggests the following rule of thumb: never, without good reason, use more than two slides in a row with no pictures.
     Don't make your diagrams too complicated. Use simple block diagrams; each simple block can be expanded upon in later slides if necessary.
     Graphs are the most useful way to present relationships between variables. Briefly show an equation, if you must, but spend the most time presenting graphs obtained from the equation. Similarly, graph numerical data rather than presenting numbers in tables. Always label the axes of a graph, and always explain the physical meaning of the variables being plotted, at least the first time that a graph of this particular type is shown. Try to keep the same scale and size on graphs of a similar type; this will allow for easy comparison. Avoid graphs with many different curves. Include enough curves to make your general point---you can always claim that other curves are similar to the ones you show. Use contrasting colours to separate curves, even if it means colouring a computer-generated slide by hand.

The mechanics of slide preparation

Many effective presentations can be made with hand-printed slides. The advantages of hand-printed slides are that they can be prepared fairly quickly, and without specialized equipment (i.e., you can write them on an airplane, or in your hotel room the night before your presentation). You can also easily introduce colour into your presentation. The main disadvantage is that you have to be extremely neat. If you cannot print neatly, then this method is not for you. Another disadvantage of the hand-printing method is that you might give your audience the impression that you did not have time to prepare adequately, i.e., that you wrote them on the airplane, or in your hotel room the night before the presentation.
     Most computer-generated slides are prepared by photocopying printer output directly onto transparencies. (The ECE photocopy room maintains a supply of these. Just ask for them at the desk.) Slides can be prepared using your favourite word-processing package---just remember to use a large font (point-size 14 or more). Avoid too many font changes; use simple, easy to read fonts (Helvetica or another sans serif font) for headings and labels. If you use LaTeX, you may want to use the slides document class, a version of LaTeX specialized for slide production. Watch for unwanted hyphenation; generally, text on slides should not be hyphenated.
     Figures can be hand-printed, or computer generated, whichever looks best (or is most convenient). Many of the computer drawing packages can be used to create both the text and pictures for each slide. Finally, don't forget that you can always ``cut-and-paste'' the different elements of a slide, each of which can be generated in the most convenient way.

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Frank R. Kschischang, September 4, 1995,