Design principles

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How to Make a Good Presentation

General Guidelines and Considerations

We need an image, diagram or chart.
Specifications: A photo of a presenter with the projection screen in view.

Depending on the purpose and audience of the presentation, there are a few considerations in their design:

  • All the slides should be well designed to fit the specific purpose and audience.
  • Using excessive flashes is an eye-sore, unless it fits the purpose, avoid them.
  • Graphical images explain "more than words", use them when you can.
  • Where there are generally accepted abbreviations and acronyms, use them to minimize on text usage.
  • Ensure that your choice of colors are legible from a distance. Light fonts on dark backgrounds are good for textual material, but scientific graphs often work better on a light background. Keep the background color simple. (Using yellow on a white background for example is a bad idea).
  • Use the right type-faces and fonts, emphasizing with bold-face or different colours (it is advisable thought to keep the colors on your screen to a maximum of four).
  • Use descriptive headlines (Do not let your audience guess or experience difficulties in deciphering the meaning(or purpose) of a slide. Use of descriptive headings not only asserts the reader with the slide, but also leads to fewer slides.

(Comment.gif: Activity needed here - What about including a few example slides where learners are required to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each example.)

The Process of Presentation Design

To do a successful presentation you need to:

  • Plan carefully:
    • What do you want the audience to know once you have finished the presentation?
    • What do you want the audience to believe once you have finished the presentation?
  • Do your research
  • Know your audience
  • Time your presentation
  • Practice your presentation
  • Speak comfortably and clearly

Determine the Purpose

Presentations are an effective way to communicate or sell an idea to a large crowd of people at the same time. However, it is not just about communicating information or selling ideas. Determining the purpose of your presentation involves finding answers to the following questions among others:

  • Why do you want to make a presentation? What do you want to communicate?
  • What do you aim at achieving with the communication?
  • Do you really need to use a presentation to achieve this?

Analyse the Audience

The most important step in designing an effective presentation is to focus on what your audience needs to know, not what you know. You now need to analyze your audience so that you can tailor your presentation to suit your specific audience’s needs and characteristics.

Hints to analyse you audience:

  • Determine your audience’s level of experience or knowledge regarding your topic
  • Determine the general education level and age of your audience
  • Determine the audience’s attitude toward the presentation topic, and based on that attitude, determine any concerns, fears, or objections your audience might have regarding the topic.
  • Determine whether there are subgroups in the audience that might have difference concerns or needs
  • Formulate questions that you could ask your audience regarding the topic
  • Check the cultural, social and political background of your audience
  • Determine the audience's motivation to attend your presentation

To have advanced presentation skills you should be able to not only instill a trust between you and your audience, but also create an interest and excitement in your audience for what you are presenting.

Gather your Content

Now that you’ve focused the presentation towards its purpose, you need to find the facts that will support your point of view or the action you propose. Keep in mind you should give the audience only the facts necessary to accomplish your goals; too much information will overwhelm the audience, and too little information will leave the audience either with a sketchy understanding of your topic or with the feeling that you have not provided enough information to support the course of action you wish the audience to take.

Structure your Presentations

A hierarchical structure organizes information from more-general to more specific dimensions, so that information at the top of the hierarchy is more general than information at the bottom. And it is advisable to use such a structure when creating your presentations.

A hierarchical structure is used:

  1. To comprehend information—the more marked the hierarchical structure, the easier it is for us to understand.
  2. To commit information to memory and later retrieve it.
  3. To decide about the importance of information—we assume information at the top of the hierarchy is more important than lower information, so we pay more attention to it and learn it better.

Also remember to add an introduction to your presentation. The introduction is key to an effective presentation.

Introductions should have the following components:

  • Background and motivation
  • Objective (of the briefing or the research in general)
  • Overview of findings and implications
  • An overview or outline of the rest of the briefing

Design your Visuals

Well-planned visuals add interest and emphasis to your presentation, Visual-aides clarifies and simplifies your message because they communicate clearly, quickly, and vividly.

When including Clip Art and Graphics remember that it :

  • Should balance the slide
  • Should enhance and complement the text, not overwhelm
  • Not be more than two graphics per slide

Rehearse your Presentation

When creating a presentation, remember too keep it short and visual so that it stimulates yourself and your audience. This way it would also be easier for you to prepare for the presentation.

When rehearsing your presentation, you need to have a clear understanding of the message you want to bring across to your audience and what you want their reaction to be. While rehearsing remember you keywords in your presentation and prepare well in advance to avoid forgetting what you went through.

Typographical Considerations

The typographical issues that you should consider in your presentation are:

  • Typestyle (font)
  • Type size
  • Upper or Lower Case
  • Block type (Bold, Italics, Normal)


There are significant differences in the choice of type faces between printed information and a presentation. While a typeface like Garamond might look presentable on paper, on a presentation it can be difficult to read.

Also depending on the audience and the purpose of the presentation, some fonts might be more suitable than others. For example, for formal or official presentation, Arial would be suitable while Comic Sans would be suitable for a less formal or informal presentation.

Type size

Depending on the audience and the presentation room, some font sizes might be more legible than others. It is always important to consider the room where the presentation will take place when choosing the size. Large rooms, with audience seated a distance from the projected screen, large font sizes might be better than small ones.

Upper or Lower Case

Although upper case letters might be good to emphasize a point, their use should be sparing or avoided. Upper case letters despite occupying more space on the slide, are also slow to read. In some quarters, the use of upper case characters might be perceived as 'SCREAMING'.

Block Type

Bold face make letters more readable and also when appear clearer when projected on a screen. Italics are slow to read especially from a distance and should be avoided or used sparingly.

Colour Considerations

Improper use of color can affect readability, recognition, retention, and communication concepts. Some colors are perceived to have meanings in different cultures and therefore their use should be accordance to those cultures. Colour has also been used to depict moods or states of mind. Some people also believe that colour enhances their learning. While it is important to choose a color theme that is line with your organizations colors, it is important to consider the these issues. On choosing colours, you should consider the following properties.

  1. Colour contrast and background effects
  2. Colour blind people

Colour Contrast and Background Effects

Highly contrasting colors improve the readability of the slides. Care, however, should be taken not to use very sharp colors as they are tiring to the eyes. Consider the following themes

Colour Combination Description
BlackAndYellow.png This is arguably the easiest colour combination to read and thats why it is widely used for caution signs. It would not however look appealing on a presentation
BlackAndWhite.png After yellow on black, this combination is the next widely used, especially for formal presentation.
BlueAndWhite.png For organizations with blue as one of their colors, this colour combination is not only legible but also has a soothing mood.
RedAndBlack.png This kind of colour is almost illegible. Although the contrast is there, the mix of the colors is not right.
YellowAndWhite.png This kind of combination brings out colours that are not contrasting at all. It does not only look boring, but it is also very difficult to read.

Colour Blind People

If part of your audience consist of colour blind people (estimated as 0.5% of the women and 8% of the men), consider their that most of them have a problem with red, green and brown.

Layout Considerations

Text only slides can be boring and it is important to add visual graphics to break the text only monotony. In doing so, considerations should be made, on among other things the way people read (visually attracted by bright or conspicuous objects, in a zig-zag format that is not consistent), the impact of the graphics and text on the actual communication, and the time available for the communication. It is imperative therefore, that all the important points or graphics are placed in the upper part of the screen, and maybe highlighted with a brighter colour. Where more than one images are used with text, they can be placed in a zigzag format on screen. It is also important to consider text listing, as long lists are intimidating to the user.

On the Day of Presentation

  1. Make sure you are fully prepared. Gather all the relevant information to enable you answer all the questions that might arise from your presentation.
  2. When using the visual aids, use them effectively. Avoid a lot of concentration on the visual aids, focus on your audience.
  3. Show a lot of confidence when presenting.
  4. Know the occasion and dress appropriately.
  5. Always Maintain eye contact with everyone in the audience.
  6. Make sure you are audible, and clear.
  7. Maintain an appropriate tone and pace.
  8. Ensure that there is a smooth transition from point to point during your presentation.

Most Common Mistakes in Presentations

  1. Illegible content - Slides that contain information that is not easily readable distract the audience into trying to guess or fathom what is written. Audience also tend to give up with the presentation if the cannot see what is being presented.
  2. Poor orientation and structure/order - Poor ordering of information is not only disruptive and inconvenient with the presenter, but also intimidating to the audience.
  3. Information overload on a slide - Too much details on a slide is also intimidating and incomprehensible.