How to Make Your Slides Not Look Like PowerPoint

I’ve heard a lot of advice on how to make your slides look more professional. But one of the best pieces of advice is this: try to make your PowerPoint slides not look like PowerPoint slides.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to choose a different font. By default, PowerPoint will offer you Calibri. And by default, your slides will look like every other PowerPoint slide. Yaawn.

 

But you can make a better impression on clients, colleagues and students if you’ll choose a different font. I like to use Rockwell for the titles and Segoe UI for the body. You can change the font in the slide master.

Oh, by the way. You may be wondering about that lovely slide background. What is that? It’s simply this photograph on Flickr, shared via a Creative Commons License from the photographer Brinzei. I had to adjust the transparency to mute the image a bit, then crop out the trees at the bottom. Changing your background to a textured background is another great tip for making your slides not look like PowerPoint. I’ve created this video showing you how to make textured backgrounds.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

Critique of Assertion-Evidence Research

I read a lot of research papers on the most effective way to present information. So I was intrigued, and then disappointed, to read this paper testing one model, called the Assertion-Evidence model.

The study appears to prove picture slides with a full sentence slide title are more effective than bullet point slides with a topic title – at least for complex concepts. However, the research is badly flawed and the conclusions drawn are overly broad and even biased.

In this blog post, I want to review what the research purports to say, why those conclusions are skewed by poor research design, and what the research actually says.

 

1. Research Results

In 2006 Michael Alley, author of The Craft of Scientific Presentations, first proposed the Assertion-Evidence model for building slides, where the slide uses a full sentence slide title (the “Assertion”) and then a picture with limited text as the slide content (the “Evidence”).

 

In 2011, Alley continued studying the A-E model, comparing it against the Topic-Subtopic model; the typical PowerPoint model that uses a brief topic slide title and a list of bullet points, often including a relevant picture.

The results show that, for “complex content”, students learned more from the A-E slides than the T-S slides. On the other hand, they remember statistics better when they are on the slide than when they are simply spoken by the presenter. Alley draws the following conclusions

1. The A-E model is superior to the T-S model for complex content

2. The A-E model and T-S model are similar for remembering statistics, as long as they are included as text on the slide

3. The T-S model is superior for remembering secondary facts that are written on the slide, rather than merely spoken. However, this comes at the expense of understanding complex content

These conclusions are misleading and based on faulty research design. Now I look at the flaws in this research study and propose a new set of conclusions.

 

2. The Flaws

Michael Alley and his colleagues are to be commended for breaking new ground and testing different models to find the best way to use PowerPoint for educational purposes. My critique of his research is not to be negative, but to caution readers against rejecting other models that might serve your purposes even better.

The main problem with this research is the T-S slides were a mix of two types of slides: Type 1) slides with text only and Type 2) slides with text plus a relevant picture. In this study, 6 of the 11 T-S slides were Type 2 slides.

Type 1) Text-only Type 2) Text-plus-picture
   

These Type 2 slides are pure poison. Poison! We’ve known for the past 10 years presenting a slide that combines extensive text plus a picture harms learning. This principle – called the Redundancy Principle —  has been proven in studies by both Richard Mayer and by John Sweller.

The researchers should not have combined text-only and the poisonous text-plus-picture slides into the T-S model. This just gives an unfair advantage to A-E slides that isn’t even worth testing.

Instead, they need to test the A-E model against three other models, which have NOT been proven to harm learning.

1. Full sentence title and text-only

2. Topic title and text-only

3. Topic title and picture-only

Another flaw is the apparent researcher bias. Their goal appears to be to prove the A-E model, not objectively test its merits. This is a shame. The A-E model looks promising, but it’s only by being intellectually honest they will discover its limitations and improve it further.

Consider the way they ignore data that doesn’t support the A-E model. The students wrote a test that included five multiple choice questions. Using the A-E model, students did better on only three questions. What did the researchers do? They ignored the other two questions and only analyzed the three questions (questions 2-4) where the A-E model was superior.

Consider also how the researchers dismiss the fact that students remembered statistics better on the T-S slides, based on fill-in-the-blank questions on the test. The A-E slides do not contain those facts as written text, only as spoken text by the presenter. The researchers dismiss it as not important enough to offset the advantage of A-E slides for learning complex content, rather than unemotionally acknowledge the superiority of T-S slides in some learning situations.

 

3. The Real Conclusions

You cannot draw conclusions when the two slide models have so many things that are different. Are the higher scores because of the poisonous Type 2 slides? Or the superiority of pictures over bullet points? Or the full sentence slide title? Or the animations only included on the A-E slides?  Which of these actually explains the difference in performance? It’s impossible to know for sure.

But some things you can conclude are:

1. For important statistics, include them as text on a slide, not spoken text. Students remembered statistics better when they were included as slide text, rather than simply spoken by the presenter. This suggests there will be times slides with a lot of text will outperform slides with limited text and pictures.

2. Pictures don’t help students remember statistics. When the slides contained the statistics as text, students did just as well with the A-E slides and the T-S slides. The focus on pictures did not give the A-E slides an advantage.

Both of these conclusions argue AGAINST the A-E model when the goal is to remember statistics. Instead, they recommend a focus on slide text over images.

I applaud Professor Michael Alley for continuing to test and refine the A-E model as a promising direction for educators and other presenters. I encourage him to continue studying the A-E model to discover the elements that improve learning and the conditions where the A-E model is superior, as well as inferior, to other models.

Unfortunately, the only conclusion we can make from this study is that students remember statistics better when they are included as slide text than when they are spoken by the presenter or presented as a picture. The rest of the conclusions must be discarded because of the research design flaws.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

Gorgeous Alternative to Bullet Points

Here’s a really nice alternative to bullet points (and sub-bullets!) on slides, courtesy of presentation consultant Gavin McMahon over at Make a Powerful Point.

Use shapes (arrows work nicely) as your 3-4 topics. This gives the audience a quick overview of what you’ll be talking about for the next few minutes. This is especially important in instructional presentations, to help the audience develop a schema for learning.

Highlight each shape with a dark or warm color as you elaborate on it. Emphasize the text with bold or a larger font size. Place any additional text to the right.

Here’s what it looks like.

 

And here’s Gavin’s original example. Skip ahead to slides 14-18.

 

The local business publication here in Seattle uses the same method on their website. Check out the news headlines in the right column.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

The #1 Best Advice for Choosing PowerPoint Fonts

In my workshops, I’m often asked which is the best font to use on PowerPoint slides. The short answer is to choose a font the way you would a business outfit: use a font that’s readable, reflects your personality and makes you feel good.

The long answer is that different fonts have different personalities, which are right in different situations. In 2004, researchers at Washington State University studied 210 fonts to find out people felt toward them. And they came up with 6 categories of fonts which can generally be sorted based on whether the font was more informal or more forceful and what emotional impact it had, from no impact to unsettling. (Note, I sorted their 6 categories into this framework; this is not their official sorting or naming.)

 

So which font should you choose? That’s like asking which outfit you should wear. If you’re having an important business meeting, wear the brown suit. If you’re speaking at the TED Conference, wear jeans and a turtleneck. Going out on a date? Wear that flirty little black dress. Your font choice should be a conscious decision based on the image you want to project.

The ONE piece of advice I feel strongly about is to not use the default Calibri font. It makes your PowerPoint slide LOOK like a PowerPoint slide and everyone else’s slides. Presentation designer Jan Schultink gives this remarkable piece of advice: to ensure great design, don’t let your PowerPoint slides look like PowerPoint slides. Calibri screams PowerPoint!

Take a look at these two slides, using Calibri (left) and Meiryo (right). Can you feel the difference in energy?

To manage the default fonts in PPT 2010, got to Design > Fonts and select Create New Theme Fonts. Then choose new fonts for titles and body text and name your new custom font setting. Unfortunately, there’s no way to choose this as the default for all your future presentations. So, as you create presentations, you’ll first have to navigate to the Design > Fonts menu and select your new font styles from the menu.

I’ll be writing more about font choice, and sharing what the research has to say, in future blog posts. Sign up to receive blog posts in your inbox.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.

The #1 Time to Avoid Bullet Points

Here’s a pet peeve of mine, and a quick tip you can use to present your ideas more clearly. What’s wrong with this slide?

The problem is the use of bullets to enumerate a list. I see this all the time. The slide creator says there are x benefits or y trends or z competitive threats. Then they create the list using the default bullets points.

Instead, if you have three things to say, then don’t use bullets. Instead, NUMBER them.

There are 3 advantages to using numbers over bullets:

1. Continuity. The audience sees the word “three” in the title and then the numbers 1, 2, 3 in the list. There’s a sense of continuity from title to text.

2. Directing the Eye. You can verbally direct people through the slide by saying “Number one” and everyone knows which point you’re on. Audience members can also easily refer to each point when they’re making comments or asking questions. This is especially important if the list is long.

3. Feeling of Completion. A numbered list feels complete. A bulleted list feels incomplete, like these are three things to think about but there might be more.

So, next time you enumerate a list, don’t just use the default bullets. Instead, number the list and you’ll present your ideas more clearly.

About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the New Language of Business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.