Research findings are often presented in things other than papers.  Today I spent all day working on a pile of data for a presentation tomorrow.  Thus part of my day was spent thinking about how best to put this information onto slides.  While the answer to that question varies from topic to topic, here are a few things to consider when putting together a powerpoint presentation.

  1. Think about what your handouts will look like:  When I teach a class I print slides 3 to a page with space for notes next to the slide.  However that can make the slide very small and therefore hard to read.  For tomorrow I chose to print 2 slides to a page in order to make sure the axis’ on my graphs were legible.
  2. Think about what people will be flipping back and forth to find: The presentation for tomorrow takes data and breaks it down in a bunch of different ways.  It will be natural for people to go back and forth to look at the “whole group” chart to see how each subgroup compares.  I considered overlaying one on the other, but that got messy and difficult to understand quickly.  So I took the “whole group” slide and duplicated it.  Now in the 2 slides to a page printout that slide is at the top of each page with the new information at the bottom.  No flipping back and forth, no annoying noise.
  3. Think about what other information they need to make sense of the slide: Classic example is the N-count – how many people are being counted.  If you present percentages this is really important but frankly I put it at the top of each slide.  It comes up too often and I don’t want to have to flip through my notes to find it.
  4. Don’t keep changing the look:  Once you figure out how to present some type of information stick with that style and color.  Consistency helps your audience interpret your charts.  Once they have learned to read the first couple the rest will be much easier to manage.
  5. Put big tables and such into appendices or separate handouts:  The stuff in the presentation needs to be easy to see and read.  Just as with a text-heavy presentation, white space is really important to comprehension.
  6. Have a plan for all possible equipment setups:  I have no idea if there will be a projector tomorrow for me to use.  I intend to print one set of full-sized color slides that I can use for clarification where color matters and that can be passed around, just in case.  I am also bringing my laptop with my presentation on it and the data in case any questions come up. 
  7. Be prepared to explain terms: I am presenting to people with at least Master’s degrees tomorrow, but I guarantee that I will be explaining what a standard deviation is again.  (I only hope I don’t have to explain the difference between the mean and the median.)  Make sure YOU understand the details of the content well enough to explain it if someone asks.

There are tons of good books on how to come up with charts that are meaningful, and someday I really need to read them.  But in the mean time it is critical to spend a bit of time thinking from the audience point of view about your presentation, what they will need to understand it and how hard it will be to get a handle on.  The items above can help.