e-Paper clinic

With the cancellation of the 2020 ARVO Annual Meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ARVO has offered authors the opportunity to submit their work in the form of narrated PowerPoint slides. Although this may seem like a different medium from a regular paper presentation, there are no major differences apart from the added dimension of audio recording.

So how do you make a great presentation? Many of the concepts discussed in my earlier Poster Clinic posts apply here as well, keeping in mind that each medium has its own characteristics. Like in posters, the biggest mistake many presenters make is showing giant blocks of text in tiny font, often made worse by the presenter literally reading the content aloud. The audience will feel compelled to quickly read ahead to make sure they don’t miss anything, rather than listening to the presenter, so they may miss important details.

But the presentation is your story telling tool, not your story. If that were the case, you wouldn’t even be needed! The presentation shows everything you need for support — this can be pictures, graphs, small tables, short videos, animations, etc. — but you tell the story.

The best starting point is the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint by Guy Kawasaki: a presentation should have 10 slides, last no more than 20 minutes, and contain no fonts smaller than 30 points. I know it sounds extreme, but there are some very good reasons for these choices:

  • 10 slides will push you to dress down your story to its bare essentials. Looking at too many slides in a short period of time will confuse your audience rather than educate it. The ideal speed is about one slide per minute. Slower is ok, faster usually is not. Also, put only one idea or concept per slide since people tend to ingest new information best in bite-size pieces.
  • 20 minutes corresponds with the audience’s attention span. A presentation that goes on for much longer than that is often drawn out and overly detailed. Since a presenter must be more interesting and relevant to the audience than their smartphones, you better make sure you have told the essence of your story before they get bored with it.
  • 30-point fonts will avoid overloaded slides and increase legibility.

Another advantage is that a short 10-slide presentation takes less time to make than a longer one. The ideal structure for a presentation is that of a classic scientific paper:

  • Slide 1: Title, name, affiliations, financial interests, etc.
  • Slide 2: Context of the problem being addressed
  • Slide 3-4: Methods
  • Slide 5-7: Results
  • Slide 8-9: Discussion
  • Slide 10: Take home message

This familiar structure should make it easy to get started.

When it comes to slide design, simple designs are usually best. Dark slides with light fonts generally look better and are very easy to make. Stick to 1-2 font styles and keep the text as plain as possible. Although it is tempting to copy and paste your abstract into a slide format, this is never a good idea. Your slides should be clean with as little text as possible. If you must use a bullet point list, limit it to 3-4 items and keep each item short. If something can be said in the form of a picture or a graph, always go for that option. Remember: a picture says a thousand words and is more easily remembered.

Once your presentation is done, don’t forget to practice to the point where you don’t need the presentation anymore. Don’t be afraid to throw in a little joke to change the pace. Also, pay attention to your time keeping. There are many inspiring examples of great presenters available online, such as Steve Jobs, Hans Rosling and Chimamanda Adichie. I would encourage you to look at their talks and see how the slides they show (if at all) support the stories they tell, rather than the other way around.

Finally, bad audio can instantly turn away your audience. So, when ready to record your presentation, make sure you use a good quality microphone and record in a quiet room. Avoid background music, but if you really feel you must add it, stick to soft instrumental pieces played at low volume.

Jos J. Rozema, MSc, PhD

Jos J. Rozema is currently the head of the Visual Optics Lab Antwerp (VOLANTIS), part of the Department of Ophthalmology of the Antwerp University Hospital. He is also an associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Antwerp. He is currently serving a term as member of the ARVO Annual Meeting Program Committee for the Visual Psychophysics/Physiological Optics section.