Copyright 2020 Melanie Spiller. All rights reserved.
Presentation Slides and Handouts
MelanieSpiller and Coloratura Consulting
In the last blog, you tagged along while I did the research to create a day-long chant workshop. I know that most of you are creating technical workshops, but I’m sure you can extrapolate. Today, I’ll talk about the visual aids that can enhance or detract from the workshop experience. I also polled some of my favorite presenters for a few dos and don’ts. In order to make presentation slides, I thought about the lecture notes. I want the class to listen to what I have to say more than bury their noses in the handouts, so I have a fine line to tread regarding what goes up on screen, how similar that is to the handouts, and what I have to say that isn’t reading straight from the slides.First, I thought I should give the group some sense of how the day will proceed. A simple schedule would also make a good handout. So that’s the first slide and the first page of the handout.The lecture portion of the class is structured as a basic listing of common themes (drones, rhythm, monody—a single melodic line without harmonies—and polyphony—multiple concurrent melodic lines), and then we’ll work through the various continents, cultures, and religions by listening to recordings. Each chant warrants a small discussion about it before we listen and the discussion topics constitute my lecture notes.I need to talk about the basic groupings I came up with—my organizing principles—before we start listening. I have to talk about drones, rhythm, monody and polyphony, so I needed to put those basic themes up on the screen. To make the slide more interesting than a list of four words, I included abbreviated definitions for each term. The handout has a more rich discussion of each term, and I will discuss each term from my notes during the lecture, perhaps with little historical asides or entertaining anecdotes. The second slide, then, is the four terms and brief definitions, the second page of the handout is the four terms plus a few more terms that will crop up during the discussion, and nice discursive definitions to go with each.Next, I tried to prioritize the chants I want to play, separating them by the basic themes within each culture, those I felt were really unusual, or those that could be useful in the “build your own” portion of the day. I don’t think slides are necessary for that portion, and, if I watch the clock and find that things go more slowly than in my practice sessions, the less I commit to in print during the listen and lecture, the more flexible I can be during the actual class. At this point, I have created two slides, one for the basic schedule of the day and another with the four basic terms we’ll need. The rest of the morning is listen and lecture, and I’ve decided not to commit any of that portion to slides or handouts, so it’s on to the afternoon of “build your own.”Before we start, I want to give a quick voice lesson. Singing for an entire afternoon can be brutal on a trained voice, and I expect that many students will be non-singers. This phase won’t require a slide, but I have to remember to bring stacks of business cards and shameless advertising so I can pick up a new student or two for private voice lessons. I’ll put that in my lecture notes.Next, there will be a few ground rules so that everyone gets a turn to solo who wants a turn, so that no one faints from exhaustion, hunger, or ecstasy, and so that we can end on time. The ground rules definitely deserve a slide, and I think I want them on a handout, too. That seems to do it. I have three slides and related handouts. There will also be a discography in the handouts, and perhaps a biography of yours truly, replete with contact information. That’s at least five pages, but I’d guess that the definitions will take up more than a single page. So, in all, perhaps seven or eight pages of handouts and three slides for a five- to six-hour lecture. That’s probably far fewer than most technical presentations. Now it’s time to start assembling the slides. I’ve polled some of my favorite presenters, and this is their advice: Use a template. Even if you change the background color scheme from the default, it is more professional to unify the slide titles in the same font, size, and color, and have the body copy of the slides all following the same style.Keep the text size large. Try to not let the text on slides get smaller than 16- or 18-point. And try not to have text appear in the bottom third of the slide. Only the people in the front row have a clear view of the bottom of the slide so that’s a good place to put your logo or other non-essential artwork.Proofread slides and handouts. PowerPoint provides a spelling checker. Just like rereading your articles before you send them off to the publisher, if you can’t get through it once, don’t expect anyone else to, either. Look for the same kinds of elements you look for in your prose: unifying organization principles, logical continuity, parallelism, tense agreement, and proper punctuation.Keep bullet points brief. Slide text does not need to be complete sentences. There’s nothing more tedious than sitting through a lecture where the slides are simply read aloud into a microphone. Use the slides to keep yourself on track, and know that the attendees will take notes on their handouts.Look at the slides on a projector before you get to the auditorium. It’s just like proofreading or editing: it only takes a few minutes to make sure that all is right, but it can ruin your reputation if you have embarrassing mistakes or non-functional soft- or hardware.Think about how long your session will be. If you have a half hour, you definitely don’t want 30 slides, let alone 45 or 50. Test how your slides look in the dark. In a darkened room, most audience members prefer a dark patterned background with white or yellow text. Avoid choosing a solid dark background, as it can be hard to read. A gradient background or something with a logo or other image is also tricky because there are times when the gradation in the background comes through and makes the text difficult to read. If you use gradations as background, be sure there’s enough contrast for the words you’ve written to be read. And be sure to remove gradients or dark backgrounds before printing the slides.Find out about the room before you begin. If you have control over the lights, you can adjust to suit the brightness of the projector. If the lights are completely off, the audience can’t take notes. If they’re too bright, the audience can’t really see the screen. Look at a slide or two in the auditorium before the audience gets there to see if your choice of color scheme is still visible and make adjustments as necessary.Test the sound system. The earlier you can get into the room to check this out, the better. If your presentation requires amplification of more than just your dulcet tones, be sure to run each media type before the audience files into the room. If all is not well and there’s no immediate tech support, at least you can cut the failing aspect before taking up time with public amateurish bumbling.Think about the presentation in print format. Assume that someone will want to print your slides, perhaps to take notes while you speak. If you save trees and print many slides per page, the text might be resized so as to render it illegible. Print one or two pages and try to read them in a darkened room before you commit. If your conference provides printed books to attendees, the alternating headers and footers from Word aren’t available in PowerPoint, so printing facing pages creates a lot of work for someone, possibly you.Keep animation to a dull roar. Yes, it’s fun to do, and you’re prancing around at the front of the room anyway, but unless it’s relevant to the topic at hand, it looks like showing off to your audience. The same is true for sounds, special effects, diverse fonts, and multiple colors: less is more. Avoid humor in your slides. Humor depends on the element of surprise, so don’t steal your own thunder. You can certainly put that joke into your own lecture notes to remind yourself, but leave the jokes off the slides.Use a laser pointer if you need to point to something on the slide or on a computer screen. Laser pointers are more visible than the mouse pointer. If you need to highlight onscreen elements as you go, get a laser pointer. Besides, your cat will love chasing the beam.Run your presentation all the way through before you head off to the auditorium. You need to see that it all fits into the time allotted, no more no less, and you need to see if you can get through the whole presentation without strain. If you can’t, you need to plan breaks for yourself, whether they are having attendees contribute, or whether you’re actively doing something on the computer. Of course, if you want to know how to talk all day without losing your voice, you can sign up with me for voice lessons. Phew. That should do it. Now I’m off to refine my lecture notes. If you’re going to be in the San Francisco Bay Area in late July, come spend a day chanting with me.