I can’t do a series on public speaking for scientists without laying down a few guidelines on Powerpoint. A quick note: the best lecturers I had during my undergraduate days consistently shunned Powerpoint, preferring the blackboard. (Overhead transparencies, thankfully, seem to be dying out). One of the reasons for this may be that equations are much less intimidating when they appear gradually, term by term, rather than all at once. Lecturers who used the blackboard also seemed to have more time to think about what they would present and how they would present it, rather than using time to prepare slides.
Powerpoint, as we all know, can be used well and can be used extremely poorly. Here are the laws of Powerpoint – if I were Emperor of astronomy, non-compliance would be punishable by firing squad.
Rule 1: Contrasting colours
If I see one more person put a yellow line on a white background …
The RGB colour model is part of the problem. The RGB model (as used by Matlab) assigns a colour by a fraction for Red, Green and Blue. For example: white (1, 1, 1), black (0, 0, 0), dark purple (0.5,0,0.5). While blue (0, 0, 1) and red (1, 0, 0) are clearly seen on a white background, green (0, 1, 0) is invisible. So you’ll need to use (0, 0.5, 0). Many “default” colours need to be darkened. If you’re using a black background, lighten the colours (especially red). If you’re using a background that is some other colour than black or white, stop it. Stop it right now. Or consult the nearest colour wheel and choose opposing colours, one dark and one light. Test your colours on a projector – they always look better on a screen or on paper.
And use thick lines on plots. And large labels. Or else.
Rule 2: Few words
It’s very difficult to read and listen at the same time. The words you put on screen should be keywords, and as few as possible. Don’t write a complete sentence unless you plan on saying it word for word. Don’t write: (more…)